Elizabeth Sylvia Randall
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
MEd (Science and Technology)
Department of Curriculum Studies
Faculty of Education
University of Pretoria
Supervisor: Professor G.O.M. Onwu
October 2008
© University of Pretoria
This research work has been examined and is approved as meeting the
required standards of scholarship for partial fulfilment of the
requirements for the degree of Master of Education at the University of
External Examiner
I hereby certify that this piece of work is entirely my own work. It is original except
for the work of others and sources that have been acknowledged. The material
contained in this report has not been submitted previously for assessment in any
formal course of study.
STUDENT’S SIGNATURE: _______________________
DATE: _____________
No researcher works in isolation. I owe a great deal to a lot of people, more especially
the following:
• The Almighty God for giving me the strength, wisdom and courage to complete
this project. Without Him I would not have made it.
• My Supervisor: Professor Gilbert Onwu for his patience, valuable guidance and
encouragement throughout this research project.
• The Teachers and Learners who participated in this project.
• The Gauteng Department of Education, for permission to conduct the research in
public schools.
• Professor L.A. Barnes and his family for their constant encouragement and
• My colleagues at work for their assistance, encouragement and support.
• My husband and family for encouragement, patience and support.
APPROVAL ..................................................................................................................ii
ETHICAL CLEARANCE CERTIFICATE................................................................. iii
DECLARATION STATEMENT .................................................................................iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS..............................................................................................vi
LIST OF TABLES ........................................................................................................ix
LIST OF FIGURES ......................................................................................................ix
LIST OF TERMS.........................................................................................................xii
1.1 Introduction
.................................................................................. 1
1.2 Background to the problem ............................................................... 2
1.3 Purpose of the Study.......................................................................... 7
1.4 Research Questions ........................................................................... 7
1.5 Significance of Survey ...................................................................... 7
1.6 Overview of Chapters........................................................................ 8
1.7 Chapter summary............................................................................... 9
2.1 Introduction
................................................................................ 10
2.2 The Concept of Large Classes......................................................... 10
Class size and Achievement.........................................................................13
Class size and Teaching ...............................................................................15
Teaching strategies in large size classes ......................................................19
2.3 Resource availability and Teaching Large Classes......................... 21
Human Resources ........................................................................................22
Resources related to school environment ....................................................26
2.4 Science Teachers’ view of the Nature of science............................ 31
2.5 Characteristics of effective teaching ............................................... 32
Effective Schools and effective teaching.....................................................33
Effective classrooms and effective teaching................................................36
Effective teaching of science in Africa ........................................................42
2.6 Summary
................................................................................ 44
2.7 Conceptual Framework ................................................................... 47
3.1 Research Procedure ......................................................................... 52
3.2 Sampling Procedure......................................................................... 53
3.3 Research Instruments ...................................................................... 54
3.4 Validation of Instruments................................................................ 56
3.5 Administration of Main Study......................................................... 56
3.6 Data gathering Process .................................................................... 57
3.7 Data Analysis ................................................................................ 59
3.8 Validity of Data ............................................................................... 59
3.9 Ethical considerations...................................................................... 59
4.1 Introduction
................................................................................ 60
4.2 Profile of the Schools ...................................................................... 60
4.3 Case Study 1 – Teacher: Charles..................................................... 62
Biographical information .............................................................................62
Characteristics of Teaching..........................................................................66
Content Knowledge .....................................................................................67
General Pedagogy ........................................................................................67
Pedagogical Content Knowledge.................................................................70
Management skills .......................................................................................72
Concern for Learners ...................................................................................73
4.4 Case study 2: Teacher – Thandiwe ................................................. 73
Biographical information .............................................................................73
Characteristics of Teaching..........................................................................77
Content knowledge ......................................................................................78
General Pedagogy ........................................................................................78
Pedagogical Content Knowledge.................................................................80
Management skills .......................................................................................82
Concern for Learners ...................................................................................84
4.5 Summary
................................................................................ 84
5.1 Introduction
................................................................................ 87
5.2 Discussions of the themes ............................................................... 87
The Teaching and Learning process in the classroom .................................87
Formative experiences of the teacher ..........................................................92
Culture/climate of the School ......................................................................94
5.3 Conclusion
................................................................................ 96
5.4 Limitations of the Study .................................................................. 97
5.5 Recommendations ........................................................................... 98
REFERENCES ............................................................................................................99
CLASSROOM OBSERVATION SCHEDULE ................................ I
TEACHER QUESTIONNAIRE ..................................................... III
PRINCIPAL QUESTIONNAIRE .................................................... V
SURVEY OF RESOURCES.......................................................... IX
LETTER TO PRINCIPAL ............................................................XX
LETTER OF CONSENT TO PARENT.....................................XXII
Table 2.1
Table Comparing findings on effective teachers of different studies.
Table 2.2
Table Comparing lists of characteristics of effective science teachers
from different studies.
Table 2.3
Characteristics of effective teaching and of effective teachers. (Onwu,
Table 4.1
Biographical sketch of the case study schools
Table 4.2
The School culture and climate of the Case Study Schools
Table 4.3
Profile of the case Study teachers.
Table 4.4
Formative experiences of the case study teachers
Table 4.5
The teaching and learning processes in the Classroom.
Figure 2.1
Diagram illustrating the eight domains the influence effective schools
(Saunders, 2000).
Figure 2.2.
Outline of the Framework for this study
Teacher development and change in the context of teaching
large under-resourced science classes
Elizabeth Sylvia Randall
Professor G.O.M. Onwu
Curriculum Studies
Med (Master of Education)
This is a biographical case study of science teachers who teach at schools that have
consistently produced good results in the examinations despite disabling teaching
conditions such as large, under-resourced classes.
The study analysed the life experiences, education, school- and community
environment of the teachers in an attempt to identify the critical features that inspire
and support their classroom commitment to hands-on / minds-on teaching.
Evidence was collected through semi-structured interviews with the teachers to get
their stories, with groups of learners to assess how they perceived the teachers in the
classrooms, and through informal discussions with the principals (school
management) and colleagues, for a richer description. Questionnaires were
administered to find out what the situations concerning resources were at the schools.
Classroom interactions were observed and analysed for more information on the
conduct of the teachers in the process of teaching and learning.
It was found that both case study teachers had adequate content knowledge and
pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) and taught in a way that reflected their
understanding and belief of the nature of science (NOS).
The view that the two participating teachers have of the nature of science was formed
during their own formative school years and influenced the view of the nature of
science they instill in their learners.
The inadequacy of resources at the schools although a frustration to the teachers, did
not deter them from teaching science in an experimental way reflective of the nature
of the subject matter.
The education implications of this study are discussed in relation to lessons that can
be learnt from such inspiring teachers. The significance of the study is seen in the
contribution it can make to the existing scholarship on effective science teaching and
on teacher development programs including factors contributing to effective science
teachers in the present South African climate of having large, under-resourced science
In this study the keywords will be operationalized as follows:
Large class
In this study a large class is defined as one where the
majority of characteristics and conditions present
themselves as inter-related and collective constraints,
that impede meaningful teaching and learning (Onwu,
1999a: 126). This may include a high learner-toteacher ratio of more than 45:1.
In this study an ‘under-resourced’ science class is one
with certain features missing or only partly present:
such as teaching and learning aids, inadequate teaching
space, ill equipped laboratory, insufficient learning
Effectiveness of teaching:
In this study effectiveness of teaching is used as a point
of entry in selecting the teachers whose schools have
had consistently good results in the Senior Certificate
exam for a period of five years or more.
Nature of science:
In this study the nature of science is defined in terms of
science as a human activity in the sense of “science is
what scientists do”; in which scientific ideas change
through time, and where the scientific ideas and the
uses to which they are put are affected by the social
and cultural contexts in which they are developed.
Pedagogical content knowledge:
In this study pedagogical content knowledge is defined
as (i) content knowledge and (ii) the content specific
methodology a teacher displays regarding an
understanding of ways in which to present subject
content that is accessible to learners. This includes an
awareness of topics that learners have difficulty with,
and a consciousness of misconceptions that learners
hold or could develop and the taking of preventative
Teaching strategy(ies)
Teaching strategy refers to the specific method(s) of
teaching to achieve a particular learning outcome. A
successful teaching strategy would create a condition
for learners to learn with meaningfulness so that they
can relate their new learning to different contexts.
Teacher development:
Instances of teachers undergoing
development for quality improvement.
Classroom management
Classroom management is defined as the skill and
competences that create and maintain an orderly and
conducive learning environment.
Teacher formative experience:
Teacher formative experience refers to identified
factors in the background of a teacher, namely the
teacher’s (1) own schooling and academic
achievements, (2) family background, (3) identification
of persons who have been influential, (4)
qualifications, and (5) identified emotional, social,
professional and intellectual drives that influenced and
sustain him/her in the teaching profession.
School culture:
School culture describes the overall character of the
school, its ethos and how policy and practice of the
staff, learners, parents and community impact on the
schools own unique performance.
“Basic education for all” is generally regarded as a fundamental right and a way of
developing the human resources within a country (Budlender, 2003; Tomaševski,
2001). For the first time in the history of South Africa, basic education for all was
given a prominent place when the Interim Constitution of the Republic (1994) was
accepted. However, prior to the acceptance of the new constitution there had already
been a great increase in the enrolment of learners at school in South Africa over the
previous fifteen years (Perry and Arends, 2003). The growth of learner enrolment was
partly due to businesses wanting a more skilled workforce but mainly as a result of the
black youth demanding a better education (Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999). The growth
rate has since slowed down as enrolment in public schools has stabilized. Statistics
indicate a decrease in school-age population enrolment (6 to 18 year-olds) for the
period 1997 to 2003 (Perry and Arends, 2003).
With the growth over the years in learner enrolment in schools there has been a
corresponding increase in the number of learners in science classes. As Lewin (2000)
has indicated, most developing countries, including South Africa, believe that an
investment in science and technology will enhance economic development. The hope
that increased access to science and technology education would help eliminate the
shortage of qualified scientists has led to government initiatives having an emphasis
on science education in many African countries (Onwu, 1999a). Such initiatives have
radically altered the education climate and have led to a dramatic increase in the
number of learners in science classes. These imperatives have resulted in large science
classes; the consequent demands on the recruitment and training of teachers and the
provision of suitable curriculum material, are central challenges that must be
addressed (Watson, Crawford and Farley, 2003). The demand for science education
has outstripped the present resources (Onwu, 1999a). The question arises of how
science teachers are to cope with this continuing reality of large classes and
insufficient resources.
Background to the problem
In South Africa before 1994 there were basically two types of government school: (i)
the Model C schools which were predominantly white and were generally wellresourced in terms of teachers, materials, class-size and government funding, (ii) the
township and rural schools which were mainly black and lacked infrastructure and
resources, and had poorly-trained teachers and large classes. With the new political
dispensation in 1994 a new education reform policy was adopted (RSA 1994:58). The
Schools Register of Needs Survey was conducted in 1996 in order to determine the
greatest needs in the education system and “to rid the country of the inequities of
apartheid” (Kader Asmal, 2000). One of the areas identified was that of science and
mathematics education. A great concern was the small percentage of school-leavers
having academic results that could lead to a career in science or technology (Centre
for Development and Enterprise (CDE) Research Report, 2004).
In the first decade after 1994 much was attempted in the education sector and, in
particular, mathematics and science education, to change previous inequalities. Indeed
the Government designed various policies to improve the mathematics, science and
technology capacities of South Africa (DoE, 2000; DST, 2002). In 1997, the National
Education Policy Act was introduced, with an emphasis on outcomes based education
(OBE). This initiative, known as Curriculum 2005, was introduced in phases and the
intention was to implement it in all grades by 2005 (DoE, 1997a). The curriculum
prescribes a “learner-centred” approach to both teaching and learning. In science
education, at any rate, there were new difficulties. Curriculum 2005 under-specified
the content to be covered, while teachers, now having to emphasize activities of the
learners, experienced a lack of structured resources and materials (Reddy, 2006). The
policy also introduced new types and purposes of assessment. Teachers needed to
devote a lot of careful thought, before the time, to implementing new and effective
activities for the learners and to developing new instruments and methods for
assessing their progress in knowledge, skills and attitudes. (Taylor and Vinjevold,
1999). As Taylor (1999: 128) pointed out, “the scheme for applying the curriculum in
the classroom is quite bewildering in its complexity. It would seem likely that only the
most dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled teachers are likely to achieve South Africa
Qualifications Authority’s (SAQA’s) learning goals” using this curriculum. Not
surprisingly, this curriculum was reviewed and revised, and by 2002 “The Revised
National Curriculum Statement” was accepted, one that was more streamlined and
gave more structure and guidance to teachers (DoE, 2000; DoE, 2002).
Another change in the education system brought about by the change in the
curriculum is that of the Senior Certificate examination, a public examination that the
learners write at the end of their grade 12 year. The intention of such an examination
is to give learners a certificate giving them access to the job market or higher
education institutions. In the past the examination system was based essentially on a
record mark (from just a few tests) and then the final examination. With the
implementation of The Revised National Curriculum Statement teachers are expected
to deal with a system that includes a kind of continuous or formative assessment. The
idea behind this is that teachers are then able to obtain immediate feedback on the
strengths and weaknesses of their classroom practices. Teachers now have to organise
learner activities (outcomes based activities) into portfolios that are externally
moderated (Chrisholm, 2006). The marks for these portfolios then become part of a
year mark. The year mark comprises an aggregate of scores obtained from classroom
tests, homework, practical work and assignments (Pandor, 2005). For the first time (in
2001) in the examination the final marks of learners were calculated using the year
mark (Pandor, 2005). However, very little has been done to train teachers to
administer continuous assessment. The process is also not properly monitored and
controlled and the different provinces do not show equal concern for the new process
(CDE Research Report, 2004).
Until the end of 2007 learners also had the option of writing the Senior Certificate
science examination on the higher grade or on the standard grade. When the Revised
National Curriculum Statement is implemented in the Further Education and Training
phase (FET) (starting with grade 10 in 2006), which is currently in force, only one
grade will be offered and learners will not have the choice of taking science on either
higher grade (HG) or standard grade (SG) (CDE Research Report, 2004). The system
of taking HG or SG physical science is of great concern, since only learners with a
HG pass in science and mathematics may pursue a degree in science at tertiary level
(CDE Research Report, 2004). Over the twelve-year period from 1991 to 2003, as
reported (CDE Research Report, 2004), there was only an increase of 12,80% in the
number of higher grade passes in physical science and in 2002 only 14,06% of the
higher grade passes in physical science came from black learners (CDE Research
Report, 2004). As education experts point out, the slight increase in the number of
passes might be attributable to incorporating the continuous assessment component in
the final grade (CDE Research Report, 2004). However 2007 brought a noticeable and
worrying decrease in the number of candidates passing physical science on the higher
grade - only 28 122 as compared to 29 781 in 2006 (Pandor; 2007).
In order to address the situation, a national strategy to improve mathematics and
science education was developed in June 2001. The intervention was named the
Dinaledi project (DoE, 2001). In this project, schools that were successful in the
mathematics and science fields (recognized by having a pass rate in the examination
of 80% - 100%) were identified and invited to take part in the project with the aim of
increasing the number of school leavers with a higher grade pass in science and
mathematics. The 102 schools across South Africa that joined were then granted
additional facilities, equipment and support (Reddy, 2006). In the report (published in
2004) reviewing the progress made by the Dinaledi project, concern was expressed
that the programme did not significantly increase the number of learners with higher
grade passes in science and mathematics as had been expected, and it was suggested
that the project should be reconceptualised and expanded (CDE Research Report,
Other areas in education in which improvements occurred since 1994, have been to
improve school buildings and basic facilities of schools in rural areas and to lower
teacher-learner ratios on average (Van der Berg, 2001). Many teachers have upgraded
their qualifications, often through distance education (Chrisholm, 2006: 213).
Despite these changes it seems that many teachers are unhappy in the profession. In a
recently published report “Educator Supply and Demand in the South African Public
Education System” (ELRC, 2005), in which the findings from various reports are
integrated, more than half (54%) of the teachers of the nationally representative
sample of teachers in the Educator School Survey indicated that they had thought
about leaving the profession and about a third (29%) of the sample indicated that they
had very often thought about leaving. Most of the teachers who indicated that they
were thinking of leaving were in the fields of technology, natural sciences, economics
and management (ELRC, 2005). In stating their intention to leave, more than half of
them indicated that salary was an issue. Apart from low salaries, other reasons given
were the low status of the profession, lack of career advancement, dissatisfying
teaching conditions and high job stress. Other complaints mentioned were poor
support for education by the government, by parents and by the community, and also
the lack of discipline amongst learners (ELRC, 2005). In a related study (Rangraje,
Van der Merwe, Urbani, Van der Walt, 2005), conducted in the Durban central
district, 86% of the 280 teachers in the sample mentioned taking a huge work load
home, 79% mentioned lack of teaching resources, and 78% mentioned large classes as
additional reasons for job dissatisfaction (Rangraje et. al., 2005) Large classes could
be at the root of most of these complaints, since the administration of learner
information and the assessing of the activities and scripts of learners will increase in
proportion to the number of learners present. More learners in a class could also
increase the noise level and result in discipline problems. The shortage of resources
could also be a result of just having too many learners in a class. Teachers play a
crucial role in the education system (Kollapen, 2006) and one would hope to find that
teachers, in general, are passionate, committed and hard working. However, many of
the teachers in both of these samples felt demoralized and unenthusiastic and were not
enjoying their profession at all.
Notwithstanding the improvements undertaken to overcome the legacy of apartheid,
many schools are still without proper facilities and teaching materials to cope with the
increase in learner numbers. As Jansen (2006) has pointed out, “despite significant
investment in education, and the formal equalisation of education expenditure,
educational outcomes are not only hugely unequal across schools, but also far below
standard in comparison with other middle- or lower income countries”. Large, underresourced science classes is a phenomenon that is likely to remain with us in South
Africa for a time, as is the case in other African countries (Onwu, 2005). The new
Revised Curriculum is not likely to be adequately implemented when the teachers
have not received sufficient training on how to implement the assessment properly
(Kollapen, 2006; Rogan, 2004). The intensification of the workload teachers
experience due to all the administration required by the new OBE curriculum that
goes hand-in-hand with the number of learners in a class, including the assessment of
the work of these learners, could be reasons for teacher morale being low (Stoffels,
However, there are teachers who teach large science classes and have few resources,
yet have consistently produced students with good science results in the Senior
Certificate examinations. These teachers have also produced passes on the higher
grade in science. It would be interesting to know whether any such teachers were
among those in the survey that were thinking of leaving the profession or whether
only teachers struggling to cope with their situation of large, under-resourced classes
were considering leaving. In a situation where science teachers are already struggling
to produce competent learners that are interested in pursuing a career in science, it
would be a pity to lose the effective teachers. It is important to know what teachers
actually do, who have consistently produced good science results in the examination,
while teaching under these circumstances.
The present study probes the relationship between OBE policy in the context of large,
under-resourced science classes and teacher practices. What is the effective teacher’s
response to the new policy? How has the teacher adapted his or her science teaching?
It is necessary to observe what an effective teacher does in the classroom. Are there
any innovations in his/her teaching approaches? What teaching and learning strategies
does he/she follow? Also the background of this teacher is important - where he/she
comes from, the formative experiences from his/her own science class as a learner at
school, qualifications and training, and how he/she developed into an effective science
teacher. What kind of in-school support, if any, does this teacher have and what
support does the school community give? To answer these questions it was decided to
do a biographical case study of two teachers who were identified as effective teachers
of large, under-resourced science classes.
The findings should be useful for teacher development in the current education reform
agenda for both pre-service and in-service teachers. Basically the question is, to what
extent can the lessons learned from such inspiring teachers be incorporated into
teacher development programs to change science teaching in schools?
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to undertake a biographical case study of two teachers,
who have been identified as being effective in the context of teaching large, underresourced science classes. The findings could be helpful for in-service training of
teachers and for training student teachers to cope with the demands expected of them.
Research Questions
What does an effective science teacher do and have in the classroom while
teaching large, under-resourced science classes and how and why do these actions
bring about effectiveness?
What formative experiences have influenced the behaviour of the teacher and how
and why have they contributed to effectiveness?
What in-school support does the effective teacher have that sustains the practice,
and how and why does this support lead to continuing effectiveness?
Significance of Survey
Since the South African government has increased access to education and since there
has been recognition of the importance of science and technology, there has been a
drive to improve science and technology education. One consequence of this initiative
has been an increase in learners studying science at secondary schools, which in turn
has led to large science classes. Many of these schools are not adequately resourced
for so many pupils. Some of the schools are not furnished with laboratories or the
equipment for doing practical science experiments and many do not have adequate
learning materials. Coupled with this are the low salaries of teachers, low status of the
profession, lack of career advancement, dissatisfying teaching conditions and high job
Notwithstanding these factors there are teachers who have persistently produced
learners with good science results in the Senior Certificate Examinations despite
teaching large classes and being under-resourced. Therefore it will be fruitful to study
what such an effective teacher does at a school known for high performance, while
teaching under these circumstances. A case study of two such teachers is conducted.
Overview of Chapters
Chapter one gives a background to the problem. The research questions are identified,
the significance of the study is presented and an overview to the study is given.
Chapter two reviews the literature concerning large, under-resourced science classes,
the present situation concerning resources at schools in South Africa and
characteristics of effective teachers. The point is argued that although the teacherlearner ratio for the school is the usual way for characterizing class size in the
literature, this is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the actual class size a teacher
faces. Then, some strategies are identified, which have been developed to assist
teachers of large classes. The situation at schools concerning resources, and also the
different views regarding the importance of resources for teaching - in particular for
science teaching - are discussed. Various ways in which effective teachers have been
described over the years in the literature are briefly mentioned. The characteristics of
effective science teachers, as found in the literature, are mentioned. Aspects of
teaching that would describe an effective teacher and especially an effective science
teacher in the South African context are identified. A framework for analysing the
data gathered in the study is developed.
Chapter three presents the research procedure used in this study. The procedure for
sampling the case-study teachers is described. A description of the different research
instruments used in gathering data is given, including an account of the validation of
the instruments. The gathering and analysis of the data, and their validity are
presented. The chapter ends by mentioning ethical considerations.
Chapter four presents the two case studies. A narrative account of each case study, the
observations in each and information from the various interviews are given.
Chapter five discusses the findings of the case studies using the framework developed
in Chapter two. Three themes are identified in answer to the research questions.
Similarities and differences in the case studies are highlighted. The study concludes
by referring to characteristics of effective teaching found in both case-studies of
teachers who had large, under-resourced science classes and to those effects that need
further development if they are to be effective. The study ends with recommendations
for further research.
Chapter summary
This chapter gave some background to the study. The need to investigate effective
science teachers teaching large, under-resourced classes is recognized. The research
questions and the significance of the study are identified. The chapter ends with an
overview of the study.
In this chapter the whole concept of large classes will be discussed and the teaching
strategies typically used in them. The notion of “under-resourced” teaching in the
present South African situation will be considered. Various views on effective
teachers will be surveyed. The characteristics of effective teaching, in general, and
effective science teaching, in particular, will be considered.
The Concept of Large Classes
In 2000, the member states of the United Nations agreed upon eight Millennium
Development Goals (United Nations, 2000). One of the goals was similar to that of a
document adopted by the World Education Forum in Dakar in that year, requiring
participants to commit themselves to increasing access to, and providing, complete,
free, and compulsory primary education of good quality for all children, world-wide,
by 2015. In attempting to achieve this goal, governments of sub-Saharan African
countries have supported a steady growth in the enrolment of learners at school
(Nilsson, 2003). As executed, the increased enrolment requires more teachers, more
training and more curriculum material (Watson et al., 2003). However, the demands
made on education in general and on science education in particular, have not
necessarily been met by a corresponding increase in resources. In particular, one of
the results of this shortfall has been larger science classes (Perry et al., 2003).
Defining ‘Large Classes’
In the South African setting, a study was undertaken in which forty-one participants
made up of researchers, curriculum developers, university science educators, teacher
educators and students from the sub region, including Malawi, Zimbabwe and South
Africa, addressed the concept of large classes and how to define them (Onwu, 1999a).
Interestingly the participants had various conceptions of large classes. Some defined
large classes according to the number of learners, while others preferred to describe
the characteristics of large classes (Onwu, 1999a). A working definition derived from
an African context defined “a large class as one where the majority of characteristics
and conditions present themselves as inter-related and collective constraints, that
impede meaningful teaching and learning” (Onwu, 1999a: 126).
The concept of large classes from an African perspective is not necessarily in accord
with the expression “learner-to-teacher ratio” often used in the literature when
reporting statistics on class sizes (World Bank, 1999). According to Nilsson (2003: 9),
learner-to-teacher ratio is defined as “the average number of full-time study learners
per full-time working educator”. Based on this view, the whole school is considered
when defining learner-to-teacher ratio (Nilsson, 2003). The definition is not
necessarily meaningful in the context of this study where the focus is on the actual
number of learners that a teacher faces in a classroom context.
Goldstein and Blatchford (1998), in agreement with the view of this study, argue that
calculating class size or establishing learner-to-teacher ratios using Nilsson’s
definition, for example, is not a true reflection of actual class size. According to them,
values of learner-to-teacher ratios are arrived at by including among the educators
those, like the principal, whose posts are essentially managerial; in reality, there are
fewer educators actually teaching in the classrooms. Thus the learner-to-teacher ratio
is actually larger, and ought to be calculated using the number of teachers regularly
teaching in the classroom. Goldstein and Blatchford also maintain that during any
school year there is a migration of learners from one school to another so that the
actual number of learners in a class at any given time may be different from the
number used to calculate the learner-to-teacher ratio. On this view a study on large
classes using learner-to-teacher ratios is not properly meaningful. Another
complication arises when learners have a choice of subjects (of which Physical
Science is one). Certain subjects are popular and many learners choose them, while
other subjects have few learners. These very different situations are not reflected in
the learner-to-teacher ratio.
Nevertheless, in comparisons of class size, the learner-to-teacher ratios as defined by
Nilsson (2003) are generally used in the literature. Hence, at present, the issue of
when to regard the learner-to-teacher ratio as “large”, is relevant.
In 2001 the South African Department of Education agreed upon a learner-teacher
ratio of 40:1 at all primary schools and 35:1 at all secondary schools (DoE, 2001a).
However, in practice, this goal is not always reached - as is seen by an educator
survey in which educators were asked to report on the average number of learners
they had taught during the years 2001 to 2003. The average class size for urban
primary schools was 45:1 and, for urban secondary schools 52:1. In rural schools the
reported class sizes were even higher than these (ELRC, 2005). In a recent study
undertaken by Onwu and Stoffels (2005) in the Limpopo Province of South Africa to find out what actually happens in a science classroom in a secondary school - of the
53 senior science teachers who took part in the study, only 18 (34%) had classes
where the learner-to-teacher ratio was less than 60:1; furthermore, there were 8
teachers (15%) who had classes for which the learner-to-teacher ratio was more than
110:1. In this study, a class is only considered large if it has a ratio of 45+ learners per
High learner-to-teacher ratios entail, or are accompanied, by a number of serious
conditions that affect learning. As Onwu (1999a) has reported, large classes have an
effect on the learners, the teachers, the physical circumstances and economic policies.
Some of the restrictions learners experience are a lack of space to move in, fewer
chances to participate actively, an increased noise level and more distractions, while
teachers experience an increased workload, and insufficient resources and learning
materials. Often the method of teaching is simply lecturing and the practical work is,
at best, simply demonstrations by the teacher (Onwu and Stoffels, 2005; Onwu,
1999a). If large classes bring about such constraints, the question naturally arises of
the extent to which class size influences the achievement of learners.
Class size and Achievement
Generally in the western world there has been an understandable tension between
educators on the one hand and the economists/administrators on the other with regard
to class size and achievement. For educators generally maintain that learners do better
in smaller classes, while politicians generally favour fewer teachers (resulting in
larger classes) because of budgetary constraints (Biddle and Berliner, 2002;
Hanushek, 1998). Research has often been undertaken by one or other of these groups
in the hope of substantiating their viewpoint. Educationists have wanted to show that
the average achievement of learners improves in smaller classes while the
economists/administrators have wanted to show that the alleged improvement in
smaller classes was not really significant or that it was not actually due to the smaller
size of the class (Hanushek, 1998). Several researchers (Krueger, 2002, quoted in
Buckingham 2003; Hanushek, 1998) conducted meta-analyses of previous studies on
the effects of class size, while other studies (Scudder, 2005; Buckingham, 2003;
Biddle et al., 2002) conducted a literature review. However many of the studies
undertaken by both the educationists and economists/administrators have been very
limited and often, also, the methodology used is open to question (Biddle et al., 2002).
Hence the results of most of these studies have been regarded as insignificant
(Buckingham, 2003; Biddle et al., 2002). Nevertheless there have been some major
studies conducted in the United States to establish the importance of class size on the
achievement of learners. Two such studies were the Tennessee STAR project (PateBain, 1992, quoted by Muijs and Reynolds, 2005) and the report of the Wisconsin
Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) during the period 1996/7
(Biddle et al, 2002). Also noteworthy have been the similar studies of Blatchford
(Blatchford et al., 2006; Blatchford et al., 2003; Blatchford et al., 2002) in the United
Kingdom. The results of these studies are discussed in more detail in the following
The Tennessee STAR project (Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio), which
started in 1985 in Tennessee, USA, followed the achievements of 11 600 learners in
approximately 80 schools for an initial four-year period. The learners were divided
into two types of classes: (1) small classes which had one teacher and about 15
learners and (2) standard classes which had one certified teacher and more than 20
learners (Biddle et al., 2002; Hanushek, 1998). (As indicated previously, even the
larger classes here are small in comparison with those in the developing countries).
Some of the findings showed that learners who had been in small classes in the early
grades, generally had better achievements later on - in reading ability, word-study
skills and mathematics. Furthermore, the longer the period that these learners had
been in small classes the greater the gains. Learners from impoverished backgrounds
showed the greatest gain after being put in smaller classes (Scudder, 2005). Follow-up
studies on the learners in the original STAR program (to investigate whether these
gains had a lasting effect) showed that, on average, those learners who had attended
small classes in the lower grades were 4.1 months ahead in reading by the time they
reached grade eight, 3.4 months ahead in mathematics, 4.3 months ahead in science
and 4.8 months ahead in social science, compared with learners who had attended
classes of standard size (Biddle et al., 2002). Hattie (2003) reported that Hanushek
queried the results, implying that the STAR study might have been biased since those
participating - school principals, teaching officials, parents and even learners - were
aware of this study, and this would have made an unavoidable difference in the
treatment of the group.
The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) (1999) program reported
similar results to those of the STAR program. Learners form smaller classes
experienced larger gains in achievement and, in the case of learners from poorer
backgrounds, these gains were even greater (Biddle et al., 2002).
The findings of these studies should be relevant to the South African situation. In
South Africa at present the most disadvantaged learners are the African learners in the
rural areas. The rural communities are usually the poorest areas, and have the largest
class sizes, according to reports (ELRC, 2005; Onwu and Stoffels, 2005). Are the
large, under-resourced classes a reason for the poor academic achievement of the
learners? As mentioned in section 1.1, some of the teachers who took part in the
educator survey indicated as reasons for their wanting to leave the teaching
profession, problems of discipline and a huge workload (ELRC, 2005). Are the
problems they experience related to the large size of classes they teach? How, in fact,
do teachers cope in the South African situation? Although small classes cannot, at
present, be realized in the whole South African situation, there are nevertheless
teachers who are considered effective in their teaching of large classes. How do they
manage with these large, under-resourced science classes and still get good results?
Although the STAR and SAGE projects show that learners do better when the classes
are smaller, both these studies focussed on learners in their early school years. A
limited number of studies (Blatchford et al., 2006; Onwu and Stoffels, 2005; Betts &
Shkolnik, 1999; Onwu, 1999a; Onwu, 1999b; Rice, 1999) have focused on the
influence of class-size on learners later on in their school careers. Blatchford (2006)
studied the effects of large classes on learners aged between seven and eleven years
and found that learners in smaller classes had more individual attention, played a
greater part in the activities in the classroom and had more chance of being successful.
Although both Betts & Shkolnik (1999) and Rice (1999) investigated learners in the
middle and high school years, they did not so much study the achievement of learners
as the changes teachers were making to cope better with large classes. More research
is needed to establish whether learners in smaller classes in secondary school will
show similar gains in achievement to those shown by learners in early primary school.
Two questions that are being asked more and more frequently are (i) why learners in
small classes in the early grades seem to be successful even in later years and, coupled
with that, (ii) what in the pedagogy and classroom management changes when
teachers have larger classes. Tentative theories have been put forward, but little has
been done to verify them (Biddle et al., 2002). In this area, too, the literature is sparse.
Class size and Teaching
Although the intuitive feeling is that it is more difficult to teach large classes, few
studies actually give statistical evidence of such findings. Some of the first studies on
large classes in the United Kingdom (Blatchford and Martin, 1998; Bennett, 1996)
tried to establish, through questionnaires and observations, what the perceptions on
the teaching of large classes were, of head teachers, chairmen of boards of governors,
teachers and parents. In these studies the size of small classes had, on average, 19
children and large classes had, on average, 33 children (Blatchford et al, 2003). The
findings agreed with what was intuitively expected, that class size has an effect on the
quality of teaching and learning, but did not answer the question, “What factors in the
classroom management or the pedagogy make it more difficult to teach large
Having discerned the perception that large classes are more difficult to teach,
researchers have probed for answers to the second question, “What changes in the
pedagogy of teaching when the classes are large?” The study by Blatchford et al.
(2002) gives a good review of the effect of large classes on teaching, including
aspects such as allocation of teacher’s time to various activities, conceptions of
effectiveness of teaching, and cognitive components of teaching. In a follow-up study,
Blatchford et al. (2003) tried to establish what classroom processes might be involved
in the different educational performances of different class-sizes. They focused on
two dimensions: attentiveness and peer relations, and they found that although there
seems to be less aggressive and anti-social behaviour in large classes, there is more
‘mucking about’ and off-task engagements with peers, such as not listening to the
teacher and not concentrating on one’s own work, than in smaller classes.
The study by Betts and Shkolnik (1999) tried to establish how teachers changed their
conduct in the classrooms when there is a variation in class size. This research
involved 2170 maths classes (of learners in middle and high school) from a
representative sample of American public schools. The researchers found that teachers
react to the change in class size by re-allocating the time they spend on various
activities in the lesson. For example, an increase in class size of 10 learners
significantly increases the percentage of time the teacher spends on discipline and
routine administration, while significantly reducing the percentage of time spent on
review (or revision of concepts already explained). The surprising result was that in
smaller classes, teachers tend to improve the learners’ grasp through additional review
rather than by covering new material, whereas in larger classes the teachers did more
group work (thus maintaining time-on-task) and spent less time with individual
learners and less time on review. It was also clear from the study that teachers of large
classes did not alter the time they required for presenting new material.
Rice (1999) investigated how class size influenced the use of time spent (1) in
instruction (e.g. working with small groups, using innovative instructional practices,
leading whole group discussion, amount of homework assigned) and (2) in noninstructional activities (e.g. administration, discipline) in high school mathematics and
science courses. The findings showed that class size influenced both instructional and
non-instructional activities, but the effect varied by subject area, type of student and
how well teachers had planned their activities. Most of the findings reviewed have
been undertaken in European and American countries. Are the findings similar in the
South African situation?
Onwu and Stoffels (2005) undertook a study to find out what actually happens in
large, under-resourced science classrooms. At the end of a workshop, they handed
out, to 53 teachers, questionnaires probing information on teaching methods and
strategies in the classroom. The participating teachers all taught secondary science in
the Limpopo Province of South Africa and they had average class sizes of 65 to 85
learners. The researchers found that some of the characteristics of large classes
referred to by the teachers in the study were the increase in noise level, increase in
discipline constraints and decreased motivation of learners due partly to resource
constraints. The teachers indicated that they had very little opportunity to help
individual learners by means of self-activity and inquiry. The teachers in the study
also lamented the lack of laboratory equipment, the lack of teaching and learning
materials (textbooks, teachers’ guides, etc.), a shortage of space simply to move in,
and the huge marking load required for assessing learners continuously and giving
immediate feedback. However, when the teachers were asked to comment on their
‘best lesson’, the lessons most of them described were those in which they were
facilitators and the learners were engaged in an inquiry activity (Onwu and Stoffels,
2005: 88).
These findings are in accordance with those reported by Blatchford et al. (1998 and
2003) in which they found that teachers experience more stress in larger classes with a
consequent waning in their own morale and enthusiasm.
Johnson et al. (2000c), reporting on an intervention undertaken in the Western Cape
Province of South Africa for training teachers in the use of Outcomes Based
principles, commented on a possible reason for why teachers of large, crowded
classes had difficulty in changing their customary method of “talk-and-chalk” to that
of facilitator. They referred to the space near the blackboard as the peculiar domain of
the teacher from which the teacher wields authority. (In some crowded classrooms it
is almost impossible for the teacher to move around among the learners). When a
teacher changes his method to that of facilitator he has to relinquish this “authority”.
Often the teachers are unwilling to make this change for fear of picking up more
problems in discipline than they can cope with (Johnson, S., Monk, M., Watson, R.,
Hodges, M., Sadeck, M., Scholtz, Z., Botha, T., and Wilson, B., 2000c).
Although the studies mentioned focused on some classroom processes that might
influence the effectiveness of teaching in large classes, the data is meagre and more
research is needed. Nevertheless, these studies confirm the perception of most
educators that it is more difficult to teach large classes, ceteris paribus (other aspects
being equal). The interest in the present study is in determining what effective
teachers actually do when teaching large, under-resourced science classes.
Some studies have emerged that suggest that learner-to-teacher ratios are not as
important as generally believed. A study undertaken by Crouch and Mabogoane
(1998) correlates data from four different data bases, viz. the matriculation exams
database, the Education Management Information System (EMIS), the School
Register of Needs (SRN) and a certain socio-economic database commissioned by the
Department of Education. The purpose was to determine which factors among the
categories, resource availability, management and the social environment, have an
influence on performance as measured by the pass rate. They concluded that the
learner-to-teacher ratios matter far less than the quality of the teachers (Crouch and
Mobogoane, 1998). One could here, of course, respond that it is precisely those
teachers that are well-trained and effective that adopt good strategies for teaching
large classes; in their case the size of the class might not appear crucial, but such
teachers are few and far between.
In the third plenary address at the ADEA 2006 Biennale, in reporting on the quality of
education and some recent findings of international research into effective schools,
Verspoor (2006a: 26) mentioned that the quality of teaching is not influenced by class
size up to a certain number of learners, and also that class size, up to 60, does not
affect the performance of the learners (Verspoor, 2006b: 3). Van der Berg (2006), in
analysing results from a survey of SACMEQ II (Southern African Consortium on
Monitoring Education Quality) – the purpose of which was to understand better the
relationship between educational outcomes, socio-economic status, school resources
and teacher inputs – reported, amongst other things, that the influence on learner-toteacher ratios did not show statistical significance in any of the regressions (Van der
Berg, 2006: 12).
Despite these studies suggesting that learner-to-teacher ratios are not as important as
has been believed, the controversy on class size and learner performance continues.
As Onwu (1998) has pointed out, a teacher could be empowered by in-service training
workshops to use strategies that encourage learner involvement in classroom
activities, to become effective in classroom management techniques and to use local
resources effectively in the classroom. Do teachers who are effective in teaching
large, under-resourced science classes make use of those teaching strategies that are
generally favoured for large classes? How do teachers in the Southern African setting
cope with the constraints of large, under-resourced classes and what are their
strategies? Is it, for example, possible to create a “small class atmosphere” where
individual learners receive attention, even in a large class? What teaching strategies
can be used to achieve a small class atmosphere? In the next section some of the
strategies for use in large classes will be reviewed.
Teaching strategies in large size classes
While it is commonly believed that, in general, small classes are better, the Center for
Excellence in Learning and Teaching (1992) has pointed out that, just as reducing
the number of students in a class does not necessarily improve the quality of
instruction, so also, increasing class size need not necessarily worsen it. What is of
importance is that good teaching should take place in either setting.
Onwu (1998: 127) has pointed out “that teachers of large science classes can be
helped to: (1) adopt strategies that provide for more pupil involvement; (2) use
classroom management techniques that maximize resource utilization; (3) recognize
local resources; and (4) relate local resources to topics in their curriculum”. In an
article (Dolan, 1995) entitled “Teaching Large Classes Well: Solutions from Your
Peers” the writer also mentions some strategies that have proved successful in dealing
with large classes. The strategies could be summed up as (1) Creating a Small-Class
Atmosphere in a Large Class Setting, (learn the names of learners, and move around
the classroom), (2) Encouraging Class Participation, (dividing the class into groups,
giving participation points and having students contribute material for the class) and
(3) Promoting Active Learning, (using demonstrations and audio-visual aids, giving
frequent assignments, and giving “think breaks”). Points one and two of this author
are in agreement with point one of Onwu (1998), but he elaborates by means of
Niadoo and Reddy (1994) report on a study undertaken at the University of Durban
Westville which used a strategy of co-operative learning with a large science class of
first-year pre-service science teachers. They pointed out that in the teaching of large
classes, co-operative learning is the most helpful line in overcoming student-centred
Johnson, Scholtz, Hodges, and Botha (2003) report on a project they undertook in the
Western Cape Province of South Africa to assist teachers in implementing strategies
for teaching large classes. In this project science teachers (mainly of grades 8 and 9)
were introduced to the use of paper and pencil “Translation Activities” (worksheets
where learners discuss information presented in one form e.g. texts, diagrams, tables
or graphs, and then transform it into another form, (p. 87) in their classes.)
Worksheets were developed in a collaborative writing workshop in which all the
different stakeholders were involved. They found that teachers who implemented the
Translation Activities were helped to “see and believe” that the new pedagogic
strategy would help them; if schools were provided with the necessary duplicating
facilities the teachers would have control over the resources and be able to sustain the
practice (Johnson et al., 2003; 94).
Resource availability and Teaching Large Classes
In Africa, as mentioned before, large classes are, in general, the norm. Since most of
the African countries are also “developing countries”, resources for teaching are not
often readily available. In this section an overview of the availability of various types
of resources (human resources, resources in the school environment and resources in
the classroom environment) in the present South African situation is presented. It is
argued that the view science teachers hold on the nature of science plays a huge role
in the importance they place on resources.
In 1994, the Government of South Africa, in accordance with the White Paper on
Education (DoE, 1995), adopted a policy to address the issue of resources with the
purpose of ensuring equity in opportunities for learning. The School Register of
Needs Survey (SRNS) prepared a document in 1996, and in 2000, giving details on
the exact location, physical facilities, condition of school buildings, services provided,
and equipment and resource material available for every school in the country
(Chrisholm, 2004: 8). It was noted that a huge disparity in resources exist between the
so-called Model C schools and schools of the mainly black communities - especially
those in rural areas (Chrisholm, 2004: 8). The government implemented some
initiatives to rectify the inequality of resources. To what extent the policy is
succeeding in making resources available will be reviewed in the following
In South Africa the increase in the number of learners at school and especially in the
number of learners in science classes since the 1980’s led not only to a shortage of
qualified science teachers but also to a shortage of learning materials (Perry and
Arends, 2003; Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999).
Naidoo and Lewin (1998: 739), however, have questioned the assumption that there is
a shortage of qualified science teachers. They found, in a study conducted in the
Kwazulu-Natal Province of South Africa, that there was not really a shortage of
qualified science teachers – but the qualified science teachers were doing other things
in the school than teaching science. Indeed, in 1994, of the 927 science teachers
employed to teach science at the 564 secondary schools in the Province, 332 teachers
(i.e. 34%) were not qualified to teach science. However, of the 1167 qualified science
teachers registered in the departments of DEC and DET in Kwazulu-Natal at that
time, 572 qualified science teachers (i.e. 62%) were not teaching science. Naidoo and
Lewin (1998) also show that the learner-to-teacher ratios for physical science classes
were low, (averaging 38:1 in grade eight and dropping to 23:1 in grade 12), because
comparatively few learners chose the subject. They therefore question the investment
made on procuring resources for such a small number of learners - if the teachers are
not using them - suggesting that the deployment of staff with regard to the teaching of
Physical Science is a drain on resources.
Human Resources
For ease of discussion, resources are put into the following categories: human
resources, school environment and learning-support materials or resources needed in
the classroom.
The lack of human resources in the teaching profession has been attributed to poor
remuneration. It was noted by Van der Berg (2001: 409) that the salaries of teachers
of white learners were on average 28% higher (in 1997) than those teaching mainly
black learners. One reason for this is the fact that teachers of white learners are
usually better qualified and have had more experience. Although for the period 1991
to 1997 spending per black pupil increased by 54%, there was only an increase of
17% in teacher resources per black pupil, since the bulk of the money went toward
salary increases (Van der Berg, 2001). However, as Van der Berg pointed out - in
comparing pass rates in the exams for the years 1994 to 1999 - these shifts in
resources were poorly translated into educational outcomes, since there was a decline
in the pass rate for those years (a pass rate of 58.0% in 1994 dropped to a pass rate of
47.4% in 1997 and 48.9% in 1999). One reason might be that the salary increases
were not matched by the provision of material resources to cope with the increased
learner population, or some other internal factors to do with classroom, learner or
teacher. A recent study (CDE, 2004) suggests that there are three determinants of
success in the School Certificate examinations in science and maths, namely, teacher
qualification, language and the classroom environment.
Chrisholm (2004: 6), reports that, apart from increasing salaries of science teachers,
another initiative undertaken by the government of South Africa to improve equity
and quality was to redistribute teachers from better resourced (mainly white and
Indian urban schools) to poorer-resourced black and mainly rural schools. By
implementing this measure, the Department of Education wanted to lower the learnerto-teacher ratio to 40:1 for primary schools and 35:1 in all secondary schools.
However, some of the richer schools (that were already well equipped) used
additional school fees to appoint extra teachers in addition to those on the public
payroll. This resulted in these schools having smaller learner-to-teacher ratios than
those set by the Department of Education. Furthermore it seems that some of the
schools in the deep rural areas have had difficulty in finding teachers for their posts,
thereby increasing learner-to-teacher ratios (Van der Berg, 2001: 415).
Quality of teachers
A further aspect related to human resources is that of adequate training of teachers
(De Feiter and Ncube, 1999). Johnson et al. (2003) reported that teachers who were
confident in their teaching were more able and ready to implement new ideas in their
classrooms - as would be necessary with the implementation of a new curriculum.
Both Crouch and Mobogoane (1998) and Verspoor (2006a) indicated that better
qualified teachers seem to cope better with teaching large classes. These researchers
felt that reducing class size was not the real issue, but that teachers should rather
improve their qualifications. Verspoor (2006a), in reporting on Transforming
Resources into Results at School Level, mentioned, among other things, that the
quality of teachers and activities in the classroom must improve if an improvement in
education is to be expected. He acknowledged that overall learning levels remained
low in Africa and cautioned that an improvement in resources does not necessarily
mean better learning will take place. He suggested that teachers need support systems
and that the community should sustain them. He made a plea for an incentive system
for improving the quality of teaching, but at the same time making sure that teachers
are provided with adequate teacher guides and textbooks (Verspoor, 2006a).
In South Africa in 1999, The President’s Education Initiative Research Project (PEI)
was introduced with the purpose of providing a scientific basis for future planning and
also delivery of educator development and support programmes (Taylor et al., 1999).
This project which focused on the school and classroom context, found that many of
the teachers in South Africa have low levels of conceptual knowledge; tasks are set at
low levels of competence and that learners are hardly ever called upon to read or write
themselves (Taylor et al., 1999: 159). Some significant studies (Christie et al., 2007;
Reddy, 2006; CDE Research Report, 2004) are in full agreement with the fact that the
quality of teachers in South Africa needs to improve.
According to Reddy (2006: 110) who analysed the information obtained from the
Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2003, at first glance
the South Africans who were teaching the participant learners appeared well qualified.
In fact, 95% of the TIMSS learners were taught by teachers who indicated that they
had obtained some post-secondary qualification. However, when their qualifications
were compared with those of the teachers of the international group, the South
Africans appeared amongst those having the lowest qualifications.
CDE Research Report (2004: 12) mentions ‘Educator knowledge’ as the major factor
leading to success in maths and science. Christie et al. (2007: 126) agree with this
finding and, when commenting on the topics, teaching, the teaching profession and
teacher recruitment and retention, they stressed the importance of capacity-building
for teachers in South Africa.
South Africa employs the principles of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) which
place a great emphasis on learner-centredness, on inquiry-based learning and teaching
and on developing a conceptual relationship between science, technology and society.
The question arises whether the teachers of South Africa are adequately equipped to
implement this curriculum. Many studies (Aldridge, Rüdiger, Laugksch, Mampone,
Seopa, and Fraser, 2006; Hattingh, Rogan, Aldous, Howie, and Venter, 2005; Onwu
and Mogari, 2004; Rogan, 2004; Johnson, Monk and Hodges, 2000a; Taylor and
Vinjevold, 1999) show that the situation in classrooms, in general, and in the science
classrooms, in particular, in South African schools evidences serious problems in
implementing this curriculum. Rogan (2004) found in a study of the science classes of
nine secondary schools in the Mpumalanga Province in South Africa that after the
introduction of Outcomes Based Education (OBE) very little had changed in the
science classroom; in only a few instances did the teachers perform demonstrations or
give learners apparatus to perform simple activities. According to him, teachers
interpreted the new curriculum as requiring more group work. Consequently although
the learners were often actively engaged in group discussions, they were pooling their
ignorance and not learning much science (Rogan, 2004).
In a study attempting to obtain a baseline assessment of the learners’ performance in
acquiring the “outcomes” of the new science curriculum, it was found that low levels
of attainment were the result of an inadequate use of the language of instruction, poor
reading skills, poor writing skills and poor teaching (Hattingh et al., 2005)
Aldridge et al. (2006) report on developing and validating an instrument to monitor
the implementation of Outcomes-Based Education in the classroom - the so-called
“OBLEQ instrument”. They found that what learners prefer from a science classroom
environment is quite different from the real classroom environment. These learners
mainly experience science teaching as “chalk-and-talk”, whereas they would prefer
meaningful involvement in science and an emphasis on science applications in their
everyday lives. According to their findings, logistical and organizational factors (e.g.,
length of periods, large class sizes, availability of textbooks, etc.) are important and
also need consideration, besides the “quality” of the teachers (Aldridge et al., 2006).
All of these studies point to the necessity of providing intervention programmes and
resources to improve teaching.
Since, in general, the South African teachers (as human resources) are not adequately
equipped to teach the new curriculum and the classes they teach are mostly large and
poorly-resourced, a good number of small but successful initiatives to help teachers
have been undertaken (Onwu and Mogari, 2004; Johnson et al., 2003; Johnson et al.,
2000c). Onwu and Mogari (2004) pointed out, after a study done in the Malamulele
district of the Limpopo Province of South Africa on the implementation of Outcome
Based Education, that teachers who had undergone professional development training
improved in their effectiveness. Before the intervention most of the lessons were
dominated by teacher talk, there was little group work and interaction and the learners
did little talking, reading and writing. All these aspects and many more improved with
the professional development programme that was modelled on a stakeholders
partnership (Onwu and Mogari, 2004).
Thus, not only should teachers be helped and reskilled but the resources available at
the schools and the learning support materials or resources needed in the classroom
should also be improved. Therefore, a second area of resources (apart from human
resources) that needs to be addressed is that of school environment and the
accompanying learning-support materials and resources needed in the classroom.
Resources related to school environment
From 1994 the Government of South Africa started a new initiative to address the
issue of basic facilities with respect to the structure of the school and the school
environment, such as school buildings, electricity, copiers, laboratories and the
learning materials used in the classroom such as textbooks, writing materials,
workbooks, science kits, desks, chairs and the library. Apart from the Schools
Register of Needs Survey (SRNS) report of 2000, improvement to learning resources
have been poorly documented (Chrisholm, 2004: 8). What has become apparent,
however, is that there are many differences in resources between provinces and,
indeed, between different schools - even schools in the same area. As Chrisholm
(2004) reported, although many schools may have improved their sanitation, yet
ceilings have collapsed and countless window panes remain broken and unattended to.
In spite of this emphasis on the improvement of resources in the school environment,
many studies (Christie et al., 2007; Crouch and Mobogoane, 1998; and Verspoor,
2006a) have concluded that the emphasis might be misplaced and that qualified
teachers are all-important. However important it is to have well-qualified teachers, the
present study considers the influence of resources on effective teaching in order to
ascertain whether a more balanced view, viz. one including both an improvement to
the quality of teachers and the improvement of resources, should be taken.
The “Schools that Work” document by Christie et al. (2007) reports that not one of
the schools producing good results that took part in the study had adequate resources for example, even though science and biology are taught at many of these schools
many of them did not have laboratories; also some that had laboratories nevertheless
did not use them because of a lack of equipment (Christie et al., 2007). What precisely
were they measuring when they reported ‘good results’? If ‘good results’ mean
enabling the learners to reproduce quite well from rote-learning in memory-oriented
examinations, this still does not make the science teacher a good one. What is that
teacher’s understanding of the nature of science? How does one identify an effective
science teacher? Christie, et al. (2007) refer to research of Foxcroft and Stumpf (2005)
which argues that the results of the Senior Certificate exams do not give a clear
indication of what learners really know, since their success in exams depends mainly
on rote-learning and repetition; teachers can coach learners to answer questions
correctly, without them gaining insight. Consequently the results of the exams are not
necessarily an indication of the effectiveness of the teacher. Should Christie et al.
(2007) then claim that resources do not matter?
As pointed out before, both Crouch et al. (1998) and Verspoor (2006a) asserted that
the quality of the teachers is all-important. Nevertheless, they maintain that resources
such as textbooks and teachers’ guides (resources directly linked to the classroom)
might have an influence on effective teaching and should be investigated. In science
teaching this would include science equipment for demonstrations or hands-on
Resources related to the Classroom environment
Verspoor (2006b: 3) reports that, in Africa, providing textbooks, teachers’ guides and
sufficient time for instruction are the most cost-effective ways of improving the
quality of schools. With respect to curriculum learning materials needed in the
classroom, Chrisholm reported that, in South Africa at any rate, the relationship
between curriculum- or learning-support material and new texts and their influence on
performance has not yet been analysed (Chrisholm, 2004); what little information is
available from the literature on the use South African teachers make of textbooks will
be considered in the next section. Another aspect to be addressed, related to resources
in the classroom, is the view or conception that science teachers have of the Nature of
Science (NOS). The way in which science teachers view science has an influence for
example, on whether they teach science through enquiry or merely by chalk-and-talk.
As mentioned in the previous section, teachers in Africa need not only textbooks and
learning support material; they need also to be trained in the use of textbooks
(Vinjevold in Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999).
In the analysis of TMMSS Report 2003 it was noted that, in contrast to international
findings indicating that about half of science teachers use the textbook as a primary
resource and only a third use the textbook as a supplementary resource, in South
Africa the pattern is reversed - only a third of science teachers use the textbook as a
primary resource and half use it as a secondary resource (Reddy, 2006). Could this be
because the South African teachers have not been trained to use textbooks
That teachers need training on how to use a textbook is further strengthened by a
study of Wickham and Versfeld (1999) in Taylor and Vinjevold (1999). They found
in their study of seven English second language teachers in previously disadvantaged
schools near Cape Town, that the teacher rather than the materials determines the
classroom practice. That means that training in the use of textbooks or lack of it might
determine the frequency of use of the relevant textbook by the teacher.
Wickham and Versfeld (1999) appealed not only for distribution of textbooks but also
for in-service training for teachers to improve their use of the textbooks. However,
Schollar (1999), found in a case study of four EQUIP (the Education Quality
Improvement Project) schools in Mamelodi in the Gauteng province of South Africa
that although textbooks have been provided to schools by the Guateng government,
the numbers have sometimes been too few (Schollar in Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999).
This study did not report on whether teachers used the textbooks in their classrooms.
In the context of large classes what do effective teachers do? How do they use the
Resources related to Language competence
The CDE Research Report (2004: 12) mentions three determinants of success in
maths and science, viz. (1) teacher knowledge, (2) language competence and (3)
school and classroom environment. English is mainly used for instruction and
examination purposes. The question arises whether teachers’ classroom practice
would improve if teachers have the texts and material for lesson preparation in their
primary language. An investigation to this end was conducted by Pile and Smythe
(1999, in Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999) in the Free State Province of South Africa.
Although a few changes were noted e.g. “the range of questions broadened;
organisation of concepts and ideas became more logical” (p. 316), it was felt that
these changes did not significantly change what happened in the classroom (Pile and
Smythe in Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999). Onwu and Stoffels (2005; 86) in the
investigation they undertook in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, point out that
the participant teachers mentioned that often, when they explain for a second time a
concept that they noticed learners have difficulty with, they do so in the mother
tongue to help learners understand. These findings seem to be in accordance with
findings from the literature that resources alone do not alter classroom practice.
Resources related to Classroom activities
Onwu and Stoffels (2005) mention, in the research cited above, that some of the
participant teachers in communicating on the classroom and lesson organisation,
indicated that they had too few desks for the learners, or had enough desks but not
enough space for them in the classroom – sometimes because stacked broken desks
diminished the space. Onwu and Stoffels further commented on how teachers were
hampered in their teaching by not having enough textbooks; they expected the
learners to copy notes or homework exercises from the blackboard which could have
been found in the textbooks. Most of the participant teachers in this study commented
on constraints they experience regarding practical work (only 9% of them do practical
work in which scientific apparatus is used or student investigations are done, at least
once or twice a term, but 22% acknowledge never doing any practical work. Most
practical work is of the nature of demonstration by the teacher). They mentioned as
constraints, insufficient equipment, being unable to manage the large classes alone
and learners taking, or breaking, equipment.
Research (Johnson et al. 2000a; Johnson, Monk, Swain, 2000b) suggests that the
environment in which the teacher works often determines his/her actions. Johnson et
al. (2003) reported that the initiative undertaken in the Western Cape Province of
South Africa to equip science teachers with paper and pencil translation activities (for
improving the skills of learners) was possible since paper and photocopying facilities
were available. The investigators emphasized that along with these resources
(photocopies of the activities) the teachers received training in implementing the
activities and were properly supported in their attempts (Johnson et al., 2003). A
government initiative simply to provide resources where there is a shortage is,
according to these investigators (Johnson et al., 2000a; Johnson et al., 2000b; Johnson
et al., 2003), useless. They argue that the environment the teacher has to work in and
the stage on which the teacher operates (Beeby 1966, 1980 cited in Johnson et al.,
2000a) determine the practice. They caution that learners also can be a deterrent to
change because of feeling threatened by the new activities (Johnson et al., 2000a).
These findings are in agreement with the remarks of Verspoor (2006a) that teachers in
Africa need not just a supply of textbooks but guidance on how best to use them.
Hattingh, Aldous and Rogan (2007: 84) are in agreement with these findings also. In
assessing to what extent teachers of grades eight and nine science in the Mpumalanga
Province use practical work in their classrooms, it was found that practical work is, or
is not done, according to the decision of the teacher and not according to government
policy or the available resources. They mention that a motivated teacher will find an
innovative way of performing practical work, regardless of the resources (Hattingh et
al., 2007).
The situation in South Africa is in accordance with a study by Olorundare (1990)
which investigated discrepancies between the official science curriculum and what
actually happens in science classes in Nigeria. In this study, five case-study schools,
in rural, suburban and urban communities were investigated. When the science
teachers of the case-study schools reported on the difficulty they experienced in
implementing the enquiry approach to science, they mentioned their frustration in not
having been provided with adequate resource materials and apparatus. In addition,
they indicated that they themselves could not go and buy even the smaller resource
materials since there were no funds from government and their own salaries were not
adequate and were often paid late. Nevertheless the author points out that when these
teachers could have made use of inexpensive and readily available resource material,
they did not. He felt that this indicated that the teachers lacked a real interest in
teaching science (Olorundare, 1990).
Although “resources alone do not teach” (that is, for example, science laboratory
equipment and materials, computers, computer software, library materials, audiovisual resources for science instruction), there is still a plea and recommendation to
equip well-functioning schools, as a matter of priority, with the necessary resources
(Christie et al., 2007: 131). As Johnson et al. (2003: 94) indicated, in order to sustain
the implementation of the “Translation Activities”, schools must have copiers, ink and
sufficient paper, and teachers should be able to control the resources.
Science Teachers’ view of the Nature of science
Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman (2000: 665) report that the science curricula of most
countries are geared toward teaching learners to be scientifically literate citizens. A
central component of scientific literacy is “the nature of science” (NOS) (Abd-ElKhalick and Lederman, 2000: 665). However, many studies agree that what comprises
NOS is complex (Waters-Adams, 2006; Clough and Olson, 2008). Some researchers
like Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman (2000) argue that there is no consensus regarding
a definition of NOS, apart from a vague definition such as that given by Lederman in
1992, viz. “NOS typically refers to the epistemology of science, science as a way of
knowing, or the values and beliefs inherent to the development of scientific
knowledge” (Lederman, 1992 cited in Abd-El-Khalick, 2000: 666). They go so far as
saying that they do not believe that a “singular NOS” actually exists (Abd-El-Khalick
et al., 2000: 666). Nevertheless, NOS features in the national curriculum documents
of various countries e.g. United Kingdom (DfEE/QCA 1999), New Zeeland (MoE
1993) and the National Academy of Science’s science education standards in the US
(NAS 1996) (Taber, 2008). South Africa is no exception and the NCS lists as the third
focus area of Physical Science “the Nature of Science and its relationship to
technology, society and the environment (DoE, 2003: 10).
Not only is the understanding that teachers themselves have of NOS important but
also the way they transfer their knowledge and understanding (Taber, 2008: 186).
Many studies (Waters-Adams, 2006; Abd-El-Khalick et al., 2000) agree that teachers’
understanding of the nature of science is often naïve or incomplete. One line of
thought (Abd-El-Khalick et al. (2000)) is that if one could only change the concepts
the teachers have of NOS, then that NOS would automatically be transferred to their
classroom practices and would greatly influence learners for their good. In practice,
changing the concepts of teachers is not so easy, as numerous studies show (WatersAdams, 2006; Smith and Scharmann, 2008).
A further complication is that an implicit understanding of NOS gained through
process skills (i.e. ‘doing science’) does not seem to transfer to the learners as well as
an explicit view of NOS (Abd-El-Khalick et al., 2000).
The question arises ‘what is the situation in South Africa?’ How do South African
teachers perceive the Nature of Science? How does their view of the Nature of
Science impact their teaching when coupled with large classes and few resources?
This study intends to explore the practice of effective teachers in the context of large,
under-resourced science classes.
Characteristics of effective teaching
The Norms and Standards for Educators in South Africa (1998) define seven roles a
teacher must be prepared to assume, viz. (1) mediator of learning; (2) interpreter and
designer of learning programmes and materials; (3) leader, administrator and
manager; (4) scholar, researcher and lifelong learner; (5) community, citizenship and
pastoral role; (6) learning area / subject / discipline / phase specialist and (7) assessor.
On this view, being a teacher is clearly a complex matter (DoE, 1997). Not only are
these roles demanding, but the science teacher in the present South African setting
teaches under the added constraint of having large classes and being under-resourced.
Describing the characteristics of an effective teacher under these circumstances is
meaningful and important. Three of these roles, viz. (a) mediator of learning, (b)
learning area / subject / discipline / phase specialist and (c) assessor are especially
significant for this study and will be used as a framework. To what extent they adapt
these roles is the question of interest, in formulating a framework for assessing the
practice of teachers in the context of large classes, is the extent to which they adopt
these roles.
Therefore this section will focus on how the literature ultimately describes the
characteristics of an effective science teacher - one with the added constraints of
teaching large, under-resourced classes. In the following section the concept of
effective schools and how they influence effective teaching will be considered.
Features of effective teachers and more specifically, of effective science teachers, as
mentioned in the literature, will be verified against the present situation in South
Africa so that an effective teacher can be more easily identified, and elements that
make such a teacher effective can be described.
Effective Schools and effective teaching
Dorman, Fraser and McRobbie (1997) reasoned that since learners spend so many
hours at school, the school environment or school climate must have a direct influence
on student outcomes. They tried to establish what psycho-social characteristics of the
school environment and the classroom are needed for effective teaching. They
concluded that for effective and successful teaching (and learning) both areas are
important. The first area relates to the support the teacher experiences from other
stakeholders in the whole process of teaching and the second area (the classroom)
relates to what happens in the classroom.
Saunders (2000) is in agreement with this line of thought, namely that only effective
schools can support effective teaching. Eight domains influencing effective teaching
and learning were identified. These domains are best illustrated by the following
Figure 2.1
Diagram illustrating the eight domains influencing effective schools
(Saunders, 2000).
The physical environment of
The curriculum and its
The school (location,
assessment; instructional
health and safety,
Quality assurance
and professional
and support systems,
development support
especially at local level
School leadership,
mechanisms and
internal organization
processes, including
and culture
school governance
and partnerships
The well-being,
with parents and
attendance and
the community
motivation of all pupils
These eight domains are self-explanatory. The question arises, ‘How do these
domains lead to effective teaching in the context of teaching large classes?’
In South Africa a very relevant and significant investigation, in agreement with the
findings of Saunders, was undertaken by Christie, et al. (2007) on “Schools that
Work”. The authors concluded the research by indicating four points that stood out:
(1) all the schools had a sense of purpose, responsibility and commitment and were
focused on the main task - that of teaching, learning and management, (2) all the
schools carried out their tasks with competence and commitment, (3) all had
acknowledging success, and (4) all had strong internal accountability systems in place
(Christie et al, 2007). The immediate consideration that stems from these findings is
that there is more chance for an individual teacher to be effective when teaching at a
school that has a joint vision, one where all the stakeholders work together towards
this shared goal. On the other hand, a teacher might be a very efficient and committed,
but when the school as a whole has no vision, and the teacher is not supported by the
different stakeholders and, also, the learners are not motivated to learn, then the
teacher is unlikely to achieve very good results. The implication of these findings for
the present study is that an effective teacher might only be found at an effective
school. A priority would be to identify an effective school.
A study in agreement with this line of thought - that the school should first of all be
effective and only after such a school has been identified to then consider activities in
the science classroom - is that of Hameyer, Van den Akker, Anderson, and Ekholm
(1995). These researchers looked at schools where activity-based science learning
exists (similar to the learner-centred and enquiring emphasis of the NCS in South
Africa) and tried to establish how the activity-based science came about and how it is
maintained. They observed elementary science classrooms in schools that had
effective classroom practice rather than focusing on individual effective teachers. In
all the classrooms there had to be activity-based learning embedded in a theory of
constructivism. Hameyer et al. (1995) found that learners participated enthusiastically
in the activities. Most of the learners could also recall, quite some time (sometimes
months after the activities), what they had done. In trying to answer the question “how
it came about?” the researchers found that the teachers mainly decided which
activities to do (the activities were not prescribed) and only in schools that followed
an open-education approach did they find that learners took initiative for their own
activities. (These findings seem to correspond with what is expected from normal
conventional classrooms, but do teachers in the South African context take
responsibility for the activities in their classrooms?) The researchers (Hameyer et al.,
1995) established that group work was common in all of the schools and that the
teaching approach was that of stimulation-and-facilitation. In considering the
resources they found that in most schools there were a variety of learning materials
and that excursions and outdoor activities occurred often. Typical problems they
identified were (i) preparing such activity-lessons is time consuming, (ii) the role the
teachers play is complex and (iii) it is difficult to evaluate (assess) learner outcomes.
(p. 115 – 118). It is important to point out that although this study accords with
Saunders (2000) and Christie et al. (2007) in that effective schools were identified,
there are significant differences: these schools were not under-resourced, the classes
were not large, and a further consideration is that these classes were elementary
science classes whereas the present study focuses on senior secondary science classes.
However, for a teacher to be effective under more or less similar circumstances in the
South African setting such a teacher would have to be able to decide on activities and
would have to be competent enough to facilitate in the execution thereof, and such a
teacher would have to receive the necessary support from the school leadership and
local community. The question arises whether there are such effective teachers in the
South African schools? Would such teachers receive the support they need from the
principal, parents and community; are the facilities at the school and resources such
that these activities could be implemented or is the teacher expected to be innovative?
How do effective teachers facing large, under-resourced science classes cope in South
The studies of Saunders (2000) and Christie et al, (2007) were undertaken to establish
what the characteristics of effective schools in developed and developing countries
respectively, are. The underlying suggestion or principle for both categories is that
once the eight domains influencing effective school are in place, effective teaching
and learning will take place. The question arises whether a teacher can be effective in
the classroom despite some lacks in the eight domains, or only when all eight domains
are well implemented. What then are the characteristics of an effective teacher in the
Effective classrooms and effective teaching
With another group of researchers (Muijs et al., 2005; Campbell, Kyriakides, Muijs,
and Robinson, 2004; Leu, 2004; Reynolds and Muijs, 1999; Chidolue, 1996; Good et
al., 1983; Good & Grouws, 1979, cited by Reynolds and Muijs, 1999; Galton, 1980
cited in Muijs et al, 2005) on effective teaching, the emphasis is on the behaviour of
the teacher rather than on the school. Some of the earliest research on teaching
effectiveness tried to establish whether there existed a link between the teacher’s
personality and student achievement (Borich, 1996, and Costin and Grush, 1973, both
cited in Campbell et al, 2004: 42). If researchers could list these characteristics a
teacher could work towards gaining them, which would then make that teacher
effective. Campbell, et al. (2004) report on such research, done in the past, which
endeavoured to ascertain teacher effectiveness. These studies found no great link with
teacher personality and learner achievement (Borich, 1996, and Costin and Grush,
1973, both cited in Campbell et al, 2004: 42). However from a study conducted by
Chidolue (1996), it seems that there could be a link between teacher experience and
learner attitude and achievement, but further research is necessary to confirm such a
link (Chidolue, 1996).
The emphasis on characterising effective teachers has since shifted to seeing if a link
exists between effective teachers and their teaching styles, an orientation closely
related to what later became known as the “Process-product studies”, (so called
because it was believed that the teacher’s behaviour brought about the desired
achievement in the learner). In the UK, the ORACLE study (Observational Research
and Classroom Learning Evaluation) (Galton, 1980 cited in Muijs et al, 2005), and in
America, a corresponding study - the Missouri Mathematics Effectiveness Project
conducted by Good and associates (Good et al. 1983; Good & Grouws 1979) were
two such studies, believing the teacher’s behaviour would lead to achievement in the
learner. Both these studies were conducted in the late seventies. The evidence found
in these studies (as quoted by Reynolds and Muijs, 1999) was similar, but did not
show conclusively that the teaching style of a teacher had a significant influence on
the progress of the learners. Furthermore, most of these studies were conducted with
learners of primary school age (Muijs et al., 2005). A list of the most important
behaviours of effective teachers found as a result of these studies, as indicated by
Reynolds and Muijs (1999), has been given in Table 2.1 below.
Table 2.1
Table Comparing findings on effective teachers of different studies.
Comparing findings on effective teachers
“Process-product studies” - specific teacher behaviours
as reported by Reynolds and Muijs, 1999.
High Opportunity to Learn
• length of the school day, -year, and the amount of hours
being taught
• quality of classroom management,
• time-on-task
• the use of homework
The teacher’ s academic orientation
good understanding of subject knowledge
Effective Classroom Management
• clear rules and procedures
• recognized desired behaviour
• well-organized classroom
• minimal disruption and misbehaviour
High Teacher Expectations of the Pupils
emphasize the importance of effort
internal locus of control - the importance of their own
A High Proportion of Whole-class Teaching
• Present information through lecture and demonstration
(most of the time)
• Teacher-led discussion as opposed to individual work
Developing a Positive Environment for Teacher Quality,
reported by Leu, 2004.
1. Time management.
Concerns such as starting and ending classes on time,
not wasting time in moving from one activity to another,
regularly giving feedback to students on their work are
characteristics of this feature
Capable teaching force where teachers have first of all a
good grasp of the subject knowledge,
Having classroom rules and maintaining them
creating thereby a safe environment for learning to take
Having high expectations of learners and motivating
them for success
Methods the teacher employs to encourage learners
Meaningful student-teacher interactions (using
appropriate strategies for large classes), encouraging
higher-order thinking skills amongst learners, and
encouraging learners to take responsibility for aspects of
their own schooling
Comparing findings on effective teachers
“Process-product studies” - specific teacher behaviours
as reported by Reynolds and Muijs, 1999.
• Provide more thoughtful and thorough presentations,
spend less time on classroom management,
• Present lessons in structured way
• Enhance time-on-task and can make more child
• Spend more time monitoring children’s achievement.
• Does not rely on curriculum material or textbooks
• Summarize as proceeds
In general, effective teachers teach a concept, then ask
questions to test children’ s understanding, and if the
material did not seem well understood, re-teach the concept,
followed by more monitoring.
Developing a Positive Environment for Teacher Quality,
reported by Leu, 2004.
Having a well thought out lesson plan with achievable
objectives using a variety of strategies
The assessment of the work of learners.
The curriculum and learning materials and whether the
teacher has a range of strategies to implement in order
to sustain quality teaching and learning.
10. Recognising that differences exist among learners and
having the range of different strategies to implement in
order to accomplish effective teaching and learning.
11. “Ongoing professional development” e.g. cluster staff
development and in-service training are effective ways
of improving teacher effectiveness
12. Professionalism and positive teacher attitude include
aspects such as being on time and regularly attending
cluster or in-service training meetings, being innovative
by trying new ideas, being self-assured when using
learning materials.
Campbell, et al. (2004: 4) have since called for a differentiated model of teacher
effectiveness, because they claim there are very many aspects to effective teaching.
For instance, they argue that teachers may be more effective with some categories of
students than with others, they may be more effective with some teaching and
organisational contexts than others, they may be more effective with some subjects or
components of a subject than with others, and more effective within one context (such
as large classes) than another and with some aspect of the professional work than with
others. They propose using a model of “differentiated teaching effectiveness” in
trying to assess teacher effectiveness, which should take the aspects that have just
been mentioned into account.
Leu (2004), lists twelve features that characterises effective teachers working within a
school environment that functions well. The twelve features follow from a literature
study (Craig, Kraft and du Plessis, 1998 cited by Leu, 2004) to identify the aspects of
effective teaching. She used and expanded these twelve issues in the report and
suggested that they could be used as a framework for identifying and improving
teacher quality. These features correspond well with many of the behaviours found in
the “Process product studies”. See Table 2.1 for a comparison.
In Science education similar trends to those describing effective teachers in general
have been found. All of these investigators (Waldrip and Fisher, 2002; Treagust,
1991: Tobin and Fraser, 1990) tried to develop a list of qualities that exemplary
science teachers display. Apart from making random observations of science teachers,
most of these studies first identified exemplary teachers and then tried to describe
their teaching practice. Tobin and Fraser (1990) identified four such characteristics.
The study by Waldrip and Fisher (2002) investigated the learner-teacher interactions,
as perceived by the learners, after the teachers had been identified as exemplary
science teachers. They agreed to a large extent with the given list of Tobin and Fraser
(1990) but added one more quality - that of encouraging learning from students of
different ability levels. These qualities are listed in Table 2.2 below.
Table 2.2
Table Comparing lists of characteristics of effective science teachers
from different studies.
Compare findings from different studies in listing exemplary Science education
- Tobin and Fraser 1990. What
does it mean to be an exemplary
science teacher? Journal of
research in science Teaching.
27(1): 3;
- Waldrip and Fisher, 2002.
Student –teacher interactions and
better science teachers. QJER.
18: 2.
Classroom learning environment
- Treagust, D.F. 1991. A Case
Study of Two Exemplary
Biology Teachers. Journal of
Research in Science Teaching.
28(4): 329-342
- Tytler, R. and Liou, I. 2005. An
Australian School Innovation in
Science Initiative. Educational
64(June): 41-59.
Social environment
Learning environment
Tobin and Fraser 1990: 3
Maintain a favourable classroom
learning environment.
Both teachers
environment to encourage
academic work.
- The participant learners
perceived the classroom
environment positive, similar
to their preferred classroom
- Both teachers encouraged think
and talk, but learners take
ownership and responsibility
for their work.
encourages active engagement with
ideas and evidence
Waldrip and Fisher, 2002: 2
Manipulated the social environment
to encourage students to engage in
academic work.
Compare findings from different studies in listing exemplary Science education
- Tobin and Fraser 1990. What
does it mean to be an exemplary
science teacher? Journal of
research in science Teaching.
27(1): 3;
- Waldrip and Fisher, 2002.
Student –teacher interactions and
better science teachers. QJER.
18: 2.
Management strategies
- Treagust, D.F. 1991. A Case
Study of Two Exemplary
Biology Teachers. Journal of
Research in Science Teaching.
28(4): 329-342
Tobin and Fraser 1990: 3
Use management strategies that
Both teachers:
- exhibited classroom
management and organization
styles which resulted in smooth
transitions between one class
structure and another – gave
little opportunity for off-task
- motivated students;
- moved around;
- dealt quickly with discipline
Understanding of science
Waldrip and Fisher, 2002: 2
Exhibited classroom management
and organization styles that
resulted in smooth transitions
between one class structure and
Understanding of science
Tobin and Fraser 1990: 3
Use strategies designed to increase
student understanding of science
- Tytler, R. and Liou, I. 2005. An
Australian School Innovation in
Science Initiative. Educational
64(June): 41-59.
Classroom Management
Understanding of science
Learners are challenged to develop
meaningful understandings
Waldrip and Fisher, 2002: 2
Set academic work that had a high
level of cognitive demand
Both teachers:
- expects academic work which
has a high level of cognitive
demand from their learners
- emphasize inquiry science
- expect their learners to think
- give regular feedback
Encouragement and differentiation
Encouragement and differentiation
Encouragement and differentiation
Waldrip and Fisher, 2002: 2
Encouraged learning from students
of different ability levels.
Both teachers:
- encouraged learning from
students of different ability
- motivated learners to work
- praised learners effectively
- gave marks for completion of a
- had a encouraging social
Participation in learning activities
Learners’ individual learning needs
and preferences are catered for,
Participation in learning activities
Tobin and Fraser 1990: 3
Utilize strategies that encourage
students to participate in learning
Waldrip and Fisher, 2002: 2
Used the laboratory in an inquiry
mode and as an integral part of the
Participation in learning activities
Science is linked with learners’
lives and interests,
Science is represented in its many
Both exemplary teachers used the
laboratory in an inquiry mode and
as an integral part of the course inquiry science
The classroom is linked with the
broader community
Learning technologies
Learning technologies are exploited
for their learning potentialities
Assessment is embedded within the
science learning strategy
Treagust (1991) investigated two exemplary biology teachers and then compared the
results with those of less effective teachers and found much the same qualities
displayed by these teachers. (Ref. Table 2.2). All of these studies list as qualities that
(1) the teachers are able to maintain a favourable classroom learning environment (or
social environment), (2) the teachers have management strategies (or manage the
classroom) that sustains learner engagement, (3) the teachers have a good
understanding of science, (4) the exemplary teachers encourage learning from
students of mixed ability and (5) the teachers used the laboratory and encouraged
inquiry science and learners participation in learning activities (Waldrip and Fisher,
2002; Treagust, D.F. 1991; Tobin and Fraser 1990).
However, all the research thus far was on a small scale - first identifying exemplary
teachers and then trying to find out what in their teaching made them effective. A
much larger study conducted in 225 schools in the State of Victoria in Australia, had
as its aim, developing a framework for describing effective teaching and learning in
science (Tytler, Waldrip and Griffiths, 2004). In this Science in Schools (SiS)
research project, components had been developed both through case studies and
through the teachers themselves reporting on their best practice. These components,
which had been mapped and validated should, when used, describe effective teaching
and learning in science (Tytler, 2003). The components are
• the learning environment encourages active engagement with ideas and
• learners are challenged to develop meaningful understandings,
• science is linked with learners’ lives and interests,
• learners’ individual learning needs and preferences are catered for,
• assessment is embedded within the science learning strategy,
• science is represented in its many facets,
• the classroom is linked with the broader community and
• learning technologies are exploited for their learning potentialities (Tytler and
Liou, 2005).
The components have been listed above in Table 2.2, for the purpose of comparing
the findings with those of the other studies.
The question arises whether such an emphasis as the components call for is
operational or feasible in a large, under-resourced science class in the South African
context. Is it possible, where there is a lack of resources, to have open-ended
investigations? Is it possible under such circumstances to actively engage the whole
In the study of Onwu and Stoffels (2005) where 53 teachers of large secondary
science classes of the Limpopo province of South Africa completed questionnaires
describing the circumstances of their teaching, they mentioned inadequate furniture
(like not having enough desks, learners having to sit on bricks, having only a very
small blackboard, not all learners fitting into the classroom so that they have to teach
outside under the trees) as some of the constraints. When these teachers described
their own practice, according to the paper, 28% indicated that they started with review
of the work of the previous day by asking questions and then writing the correct
answers - as often shouted out by learners - on the blackboard, with very little
discussion taking place. In commenting on practical work, 89% indicated that they do
teacher demonstrations, asking verbal questions as they proceed and requiring learners
to complete a worksheet afterwards. In these classrooms very little self-investigation
or discussion took place (Onwu and Stoffels, 2005). Could these teachers have had
more discussions and open-ended investigations? In considering component 8 of the
SiS project “learning technologies are exploited for their learning potentialities”, is it
possible in the local context to achieve this component when many schools are not
equipped with electricity, computers or internet connections?
Most of the above-mentioned research on what constitutes an effective teacher was
done in first-world countries, but to what values do effective teachers of large, underresourced classes in an African context, ascribe?
Effective teaching of science in Africa
In a study by Onwu at the University of Venda in South Africa in 1998, forty-one
participants (researchers, curriculum developers, university science educators, teacher
educators and students) from Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa discussed, among
other things, the questions, (1) “What is effective teaching?” and (2) “What
characterizes effective teachers?” (Onwu, 1999). In this study the various
characteristics of effective teaching and an effective teacher, as decided on by the
participants, were listed. See table 2.3 below. These characteristics could be used as
framework in observing teaching in a classroom to determine whether effective
teaching is taking place.
Table 2.3
Characteristics of effective teaching and of effective teachers. (Onwu,
(1) What is effective teaching?
Teacher concerns for learners
• taking a personal interest in, and motivating every
learner to have a positive attitude towards science,
• developing learners’ confidence and their ability to
• improving the skill of learners to question
phenomena and
• meeting learners’ needs.
(2) What characterizes effective teachers?
Teacher competence
• a continued interest in science and inquiry,
• innovative ways of utilizing resources,
• providing a safe, stimulating and accepting
classroom environment
Classroom interaction patterns
• managing and utilizing resources especially those
from the school environment and local community,
• allowing every learner the chance of expressing
his/her ideas and
• promoting meaningful interaction between learners
Teacher organization
• classroom management skills,
• facilitating meaningful learning,
• encouraging learners to apply their knowledge and
• having clearly stated multiple objectives
The availability and use of resources
• involving all learners in the learning process,
• using a variety of teaching approaches,
• setting challenges to learners and
• improving learner performance
Teacher use of instructional materials
• learner experience as a learning resource,
• not being limited by the classroom,
• encouraging the scientific process of thinking and
The teacher as reflective practitioner
• teacher must be able to critically reflect on his/her
own practice,
• being willing to admit mistakes,
• encouraging learners to question and challenge
scientific thought,
• have high expectations of learners and
• give equal attention to the development of skills,
knowledge and attitudes of learners.
The teacher as change agent
• being a good listener,
• having a passion for the subject and for teaching,
• using a variety of teaching strategies,
• having a strong desire to continue to learn and
grow professionally and
• encouraging learners to become life-long learners,
• a refusal to be overwhelmed by circumstances.
(1) What is effective teaching?
(2) What characterizes effective teachers?
The teacher’s concern for learners
• a sensitivity to learner’s needs,
• using different examples and illustrations in
explaining concepts since learners would be of
mixed ability, and
• knowing each learner well
Onwu, G.O.M. 1999a. Inquiring into the Concept of Large Classes: Emerging Typologies in an African
Context. Chapter 8. In Savage, M. and Naidoo, P. (eds). Using the local Resource Base to Teach
Science and Technology; Lessons from Africa. African Forum for Children’s’ Literacy in Science and
Technology. University of Durban-Westville, South Africa.
In a study by Gwimbi and Monk (2003), classroom practice and classroom contexts
among senior high school biology teachers in Harare, Zimbabwe, were examined, in
order to address the question of how (and perhaps why) teachers organize their
lessons the way they do. They found that there is no “best practice”, but that the
teacher’s practice fits the circumstances. The teachers who regard themselves to be in
better schools tend to lecture more, believing that they have more capable learners,
while teachers in less resourced schools believe that they have poorer learners and
should therefore give more support with the duplication of notes and the rehearsing of
exercises. These teachers also tend to give less homework and project work, because
they know the students do not have well-equipped libraries and the teachers
themselves have heavier teaching loads because of the larger classes. The fact that
circumstances predict the practice was even more obvious with practical work. A lack
of material resources meant that other activities, which were not necessary in wellequipped schools, had to be found, to supplement the usual practice. Again the
practices fit the circumstances (Onwu and Stoffels, 2005; Johnson et al., 2000a;
Johnson, et al., 2000b).
So far the review of relevant literature on the teaching of large classes, on effective
teaching and effective resources has been undertaken to provide the basis for the
conceptual framework adopted in this study. A summary of the literature review
It is clear from the literature that controversy still exists around the whole notion of
“large” class. How large is “large” really? Research that has been done on trying to
link large classes with the achievement of the learners has not shown conclusive
evidence that learners in smaller classes achieve better results than learners in large
classes. Much controversy still surrounds this point. Very little data in the literature
exists regarding the link between achievement and large classes where the classes are
in the higher grades. Hardly any studies have been done linking the achievement in
science where learners are supposed to do investigations, to the class size.
Furthermore the literature indicates that there certainly are strategies available for
implementation when large classes must be taught. Very little research has been found
to verify whether teachers who are effective in teaching large classes make use of
these strategies to enable them to cope better with the large numbers.
In South Africa, at present, reports regarding the situation of resources at schools do
not give extensive information. Although much has been done to improve the basic
facilities at most schools the situations between different provinces and between
schools even in the same areas, differ greatly. The information that is lacking pertains
to resources that should be used in the classroom like textbooks, teacher’s guides and,
especially in science classes, the equipment needed for practical experiments and
enquiry. It seems that many schools simply do not have science laboratories or the
basic equipment for doing practical work in science. The teachers often do not have
an adequate number of textbooks available for all the learners in their classes, or they
do not have teacher’s guides for the textbooks or practical guides. In addition the
literature indicates that teachers are not trained in using the textbooks or equipment
appropriately so that even when schools are equipped with the necessary resources
they are not used. Teachers also need to be trained to implement the new curriculum
A large number of studies have been done on effective schools and features that
schools should have if they are to be effective. From the literature it appears that there
is consensus that very little effective teaching can take place if the school as a whole
does not have an effective management system in place, with a focused vision
embraced by all.
Many studies have been found that have considered effective teachers. Most of the
available literature on effective teachers comes from studies conducted in the Western
world; there is not much data available regarding effective teachers in Africa where
teachers have the added constraint of having large classes, and having poorly
resourced classrooms.
Evidence from the literature concerning effective science teachers in an African
setting, is not plentiful either. Extensive research done in Australia might not be
appropriate for the situations of science teachers in Africa, where they often have to
cope with large classes and a shortage of resources. Furthermore very little is known
of what an effective science teacher is and does in a science class where the teacher
experiences a shortage of resources.
From the literature review the following working definitions were derived/obtained.
When there were more than 45 learners in a class, the class was regarded as being a
‘large class’. An ‘under-resourced’ science class had certain of the following features
missing or they were only partly present, namely (1) a laboratory, (2) a laboratory, but
one whose facilities were dysfunctional (3) not enough science equipment and (4) not
enough chemicals. An amalgam of the given features on large classes and on being
under-resourced leads to the working definition given by Onwu (1999a: 126) “a large
class (and one that is under-resourced) is one where the majority of characteristics
and conditions present themselves as inter-related and collective constraints, that
impede meaningful teaching and learning”.
The circumstances in the South African schools, at present, are such that there are
many schools with insufficient management systems in place, many schools lacking
basic facilities and equipment, large classes, many teachers needing to be trained to
implement the new curriculum. And yet there are teachers that, despite all these
constraints, are successful. The present study is an attempt to find out what effective
teachers, who have to teach large, under-resourced, senior secondary science classes,
do in the classroom.
The section that follows describes how a framework was developed based on the
literature review. It was used to develop the instrument and collect data in relation to
what effective science teachers have and do in the classroom while teaching large,
under-resourced classes.
Conceptual Framework
From the literature it is clear that there are many aspects that have been identified and
that contribute to making a teacher effective. In this study, effective teachers were
identified using as the first criteria (i) teachers of science at a school that has had
‘good results’ in the Senior Certificate examination for the past five years, (ii) the
teacher being identified as effective by the principal and his/her colleagues at the
school. (The full process of selecting an effective teacher is discussed in the sampling
procedure, section 3.2). Once effective teachers of large, under-resourced science
classes, were identified the study seeks to find out what these ‘effective science
teachers’ do and have in the classroom while teaching large, under-resourced science
classes and how and why these actions bring about an improved performance in the
Second, the study tries to establish what formative experiences have influenced the
behaviour of each of the teachers and how, and why, these experiences have
contributed to effectiveness.
Thirdly, the study investigates what in-school support the effective teachers have that
sustains the practice and how, and why, this support leads to continuing effectiveness.
In order to answer the first research question, one has to turn to the classroom
environment. Some of the aspects of effective teaching practice are familiar and so
listed by all those doing research along these lines, “using a variety of teaching
strategies”, which is highlighted by Tobin and Fraser (1990), Heneveld and Craig
(1995), by Onwu (1998), by Muijs and Reynolds (2003), and Leu (2004) - to mention
just a few. Heneveld and Craig (1995) have mentioned “homework” as well. It is
possible to reason that this aspect would fall under the “continuous assessment” of
other researchers, e.g. Leu (2004). Different researchers often use different headings
to describe the same, or closely related aspects of effectiveness, for example “high
expectations of learners” is listed by Heneveld and Craig (1995) under the heading
“School climate”, while Onwu (1998) lists it under the heading “Teacher as Reflective
practitioner”. To make an exhaustive list of all the aspects of effective teaching and
arrange them under appropriate headings is a formidable task. Also, to decide whether
all the aspects are evident in a particular lesson really needs more that one observer.
Consequently only certain relevant aspects consistent with interests of the case study,
that of an effective science teacher of a large, under-resourced science class, will be
Adequate provision of curriculum materials and instructional aids is seen as one of the
supporting inputs for effectiveness (Heneveld et al., 1995; Saunders, 2000; Leu,
2004). However, in this study, one of the requirements for the case study teachers is
precisely that they must have poorly or under-resourced science classrooms. The other
requirement is that they must teach large science classes.
As seen above, in the research of Saunders (2000), eight domains were identified that
contribute to effective teaching and learning and, in fact, form a framework or context
for what happens in the classroom. Similarly the research done by Christie et al.
(2007) on ‘Schools that Work’ indicates aspects of effective teaching and learning
where the school as an entity is effective.
In the present study the focus is not so much on the school as an entity or unit of
analysis, but on the particular teacher and what happens in his/her classroom. It
seems, however, that certain features of effective schools must be present before
effective teaching can take place. Consequently, for the present study just three of the
most relevant domains are considered, viz. (1) school leadership, internal organization
and culture, (2) the well-being, attendance and motivation of all learners, and (3)
teacher supply, training and professional development/support (Saunders, 2000).
In addressing the research questions the conceptual framework had three basic aspects
as organisers of the data, viz. (1) teaching and learning process in the classroom,
(2) formative experiences of the teacher, (3) school culture.
Considering the lack of teaching skills many teachers in South Africa have (Aldridge
et al., 2006; Hattingh et al., 2005; Onwu and Mogari, 2004; Rogan, 2004; Johnson, et
al., 2000; Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999), certain general features or skills of effective
teachers such as good content knowledge, good knowledge of general pedagogy
(using a variety of appropriate teaching strategies, using a textbook effectively,
assessing learners’ work, giving frequent, challenging homework exercises, etc.) form
another element to be considered. It is important to find out whether these teachers
make use of those teaching strategies generally acknowledged as helpful for teaching
large classes for any school subject. Other general aspects forming a framework for
observation will include the management skills these teachers have. How do they
manage discipline, time and resources?
Of great importance is the pedagogical content knowledge of the teachers chosen the
case studies. The view these teachers hold of the nature of science is crucial since
what they think about the nature of science largely determines the way they teach, the
way they manage resources and the innovations they make to overcome inadequacy of
resources. The manner in which they organize and manage practical work, or
encourage learners to follow the scientific process, is another concern to be
investigated. Do discussions, as indicated by the SIS-system (Tytler et al., 2001),
follow the practical work, are learners encouraged to ask challenging questions or to
question findings? Therefore the teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge with an
emphasis on his/her view of the nature of science forms another element of this study.
Circumstances and experiences that affect the teacher’s concern for the learners have
in addition been considered for investigation.
The teacher, however, is not an entity in isolation. He/she has a history, grew up in a
certain culture (what is that culture?), had early formative experiences (what were
they?), met people that influenced him/her (who were they?) and underwent training
(what kind, and how did the teacher feel about it?) What qualifications does he/she
have? Is he/she improving them, or intending to? Is he/she passionate about the
subject? What other influences are there? Does he/she enlist support for his/her
teaching program? In pursuing answers to the second research question, “What
formative experiences have influenced the behaviour of each of the teachers and how,
and why, have these experiences contributed to effectiveness?”, naturally these
formative experiences, and the teacher’s view of the nature of science are considered
as elements for investigation. Coupled to the formative experiences of the teachers
are, of course, the circumstances that influenced the teacher to pursue a vocation in
education. These can be significant in the light of the fact, mentioned earlier, that the
teaching profession in South Africa has a low status at present (ELRC, 2005;
Rangraje et al., 2005). Therefore these constitute another element of the study.
The elements chosen are consistent with what is seen in the literature (Heneveld et al.,
1995; Saunders, 2000; Leu, 2004; Christie et al., 2007). Leu (2004), in agreement
with Saunders (2000) and Christie et al. (2007), points out that teaching is a social
activity. It follows that the conditions of effective schools (joint vision, strong
leadership, motivated learners and teachers) have to be met before effective teaching
can take place. The school culture or climate of the schools where the teachers,
forming the units of analysis, work, form one of the aspects for investigation. The
third question of the research, viz., the extent of in-school support the effective
teachers has that sustains the practice and how, and why, this support leads to
continuing effectiveness, is explored.
Biographical case studies of two science teachers identified as being effective in
teaching large, under-resourced science classes were conducted. The data was
analysed within the framework shown below as Figure 2.2.
Figure 2.2.
Outline of the Framework for this study
Culture/Climate of the school
Formative experiences of the
o Teacher’s Background/
Qualifications/ Further training
o Forming a View of the Nature
of Science
Effective Teacher of
large classes
o Vision of the school
o Academic Leadership
o Language Policy and
The Teaching and Learning
process in the classroom
o Knowledge of Content
o Knowledge of General Pedagogy
• Using a variety of appropriate
teaching strategies,
• Using a textbook effectively in
• The assessment of learners’
• Giving frequent, challenging
homework exercises
o Pedagogical Content Knowledge
• Knowledge of misconceptions
• Teachers’ view of the nature
of science
• Inquiry science
o Management skills
• Discipline,
• Time and
• Resources
o Concern for learners
Although a framework identifying elements for consideration while conducting the
case study was decided on, the researcher tried to observe the teachers in the class
situation with an open mind, endeavouring to identify aspects of the teaching that
made them effective.
The next chapter will describe why a case study design was followed in this research,
what methods were employed for gathering data, how the data was analysed and the
validity and reliability of the data.
In this chapter the Research Procedure used to investigate the research questions is
discussed in detail. The development of the research, the instruments and their
validation are discussed. The sampling procedure for the identification of the case
study teachers and the data collection processes are elucidated.
Research Procedure
An ex post facto research design was used in this study in which differences are known
to exist between the participating teachers, after the event. The case study method was
used for the collection of data. This is an instance of the qualitative approach which
endeavours to describe an event in the social world from the standpoint of the
individuals who are part of the ongoing event (Cohen, et al., 2000: 19). The
participants not only take part in the event, but their intentions give meaning to the
event (Gall, et al., 2007: 32).
Yin (2003: 1) describes a case study as a qualitative research strategy which is suitable
when answers to “how” and “why” questions are sought, when the researcher is not
able to control the event and when a contemporary real life phenomenon is
The unit of analysis was identified as effective teachers in the classroom settings where
they teach large, under-resourced science classes. In an attempt to give a rich
description of what these effective teachers do in their classrooms, and, since
qualitative research is multi-method in structure (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994: 31), a
number of varying sources of evidence were used to furnish data.
Sampling Procedure
After the decision to follow a case study method, it was necessary to find teachers
who could be classed as effective science teachers. Also it was decided, as a point of
entry for “effectiveness” that these teachers should teach at schools that have had
good results (more than 80% pass rate) in the Senior Certificate exam, as a whole, for
the past five years. Christie, et al. (2007) used similar reasoning to identify the schools
that formed the units of analysis in the report “Schools that work”, but pointed out
that finding schools with good results did not necessarily mean that such a school had
performed exceptionally well, but only that the school had achieved better results than
the average pass rate in the Senior Certificate exams, which is around 70%, at present.
A district office of the Department of Education was approached with the criteria set
out for the study. Two schools that have had ‘good results’ (more than 70%) for the
past five years in the Senior Certificate exams, had large classes and were underresourced, were sought. The school district office supplied the researcher with the
names of two schools that seemed to fit the criteria. An effective science teacher
(male) was identified at one of the schools. Upon further investigation it was found
that the other school was not really under-resourced. When the district office was
approached again for the name of another school that would fit the criteria, the
researcher was told that there wasn’t really such a school in their district/area. Schools
that had large classes and that were under-resourced did not have good results – these
schools had pass rates of 70% and less for the exams, while schools with good results
were not really under-resourced.
While the researcher was still contemplating whether to approach a second school
district that was not too far away, it was decided to try an under-resourced rural
school that also had good results in science. There was such a school and a female
science teacher was identified as being effective. The performance of the learners in
physical science at the school was good in 2005. They had a 100% pass rate in HG
and SG physical science.
In this way two effective science teachers, a man and a woman, teaching large classes
at different, under-resourced schools that have had good results (above 70%) for the
past five years, came to be subjects for this study.
Research Instruments
The following research instruments were adapted from Onwu (2002) and follow the
format he used to gather similar information.
Classroom Observation Schedule. This was used to assess classroom practice,
to find out what these teachers do in their classrooms and to present a detailed
account of their actions. The observation schedule among other things assessed
the classroom management, the time spent “on-task”, classroom instruction and
the different strategies the teacher used in teaching, the frequency and types of
questions asked. In one sense the observation was unstructured allowing the
situation to “speak for itself”. However, in another sense the observations were
structured since certain aspects of the teaching and learning processes in the
classroom had been identified and were focused on. (See Appendix A.)
Teacher Questionnaire. This sought information on the demographical profile
of the case study teachers (sections A and B), their qualifications (sections C)
and experiences in teaching science (section D) and involvement in the
community (section E). In section D the questionnaire further probed
information on how lessons were prepared and structured, whether textbooks
were used, how often tests were administered, and the frequency of homework.
(See Appendix B)
Principal’s Questionnaire. This was administered to the principal at each
school to establish information on the school’s vision, its policy with regard to
language and discipline, its performance in the Senior Certificate exams over a
period, and its demographic data and organization. (See Appendix C).
Some questions in both the teacher’s questionnaire and the principal’s questionnaire
were open, allowing the respondents to include additional information. Both
questionnaires were based on the model and format used by Onwu (2002).
Resource Questionnaire. A questionnaire (Appendix D) was used to collect
data on the situation of resources at the school. This questionnaire established
the physical facilities at the school, viz. the school grounds, buildings and
administration (sections A, B and C). The questionnaire further ascertained the
availability of science equipment (section F) and physical facilities for teaching
science (section E), at the school.
In line with the principle of “triangulation”, the researcher interviewed groups of
learners from each case study school, as well as the case study teachers.
An Interview schedule for each case study teacher. The interview schedule in
this study was designed to gather data from the case study teachers regarding
their attitudes, feelings, problems, etc. in teaching large, under-resourced
science classes (key informant interview, Gall, et al., 2007: 243), and secondly
to verify and elaborate information gained by observation and from the teacher
questionnaires (a type of confirmation survey interview, Gall et al., 2007: 244).
(See appendix E).
An Interview schedule for a group of learners at each school. The focus of
these interviews was to gain an understanding of the learners’ ideas on what
constitutes an effective teacher, how they experience the teaching of the
effective teacher and the learning of science in the classroom. The interview
tried to find out how the learners perceived having a shortage of resources and
being in a large class. The interviews were semi-structured involving a preselected list of guidelines for questions, but probing more deeply with openended questions to obtain additional information. Thus these interviews could
be described as fairly informal, conversational interviews. (See Appendix F).
Validation of Instruments
Three educational experts were asked to scrutinize the instruments, in order to
establish the face and content validity of each. They worked independently of each
other. Construct validity was checked also.
A pilot study in the class of an expert teacher was conducted in order to test the
observation schedule and the consistency in the researcher’s observations. Changes
streamlining the instrument were made in consultation with the expert teacher until
full agreement was reached.
Administration of Main Study
The following research protocols were followed:
• Permission was sought and obtained from the Provincial Department of Education
• Research instruments were validated. (See 3.4 above.)
• The participating schools received a letter from the researcher to introduce the
research and to request cooperation. The reaction from the schools was most
• In each school provision was made for the observation of science classes. Owing
to the preparation and writing of the grade 12 trial examinations at that time, no
grade 12 classes could be observed. It was recommended that ten lessons of each
teacher be observed during the school visits.
• A record of the visits, including dates, times and activities, interviews and
observations has been kept.
• The case study teachers were interviewed individually. There were interviews with
the learners in the “focus groups”. Observations in the classes (conditions, bulletin
boards etc.) and observations of the teaching were made. Questionnaires and the
researcher’s “field notes” were also used in compiling data.
• All data collected from different sources were “triangulated” in order to ensure
consistency and look for emerging similarities and differences.
• Research limitations encountered during field work and departures from the work
plan, were recorded.
• The data collected was analysed under different categories that are consonant with
the conceptual framework.
Data gathering Process
After getting permission from the Department of Education (Appendix G) and
principal of each school (Appendix H), to conduct the research in the schools, and
getting the consent of the teachers (Appendix I) to participate in the study, the
researcher started by having informal discussions with each of the two teachers.
During the first visit at each school, the teacher was asked to complete the teacher’s
questionnaire. Neither principal was available for an informal discussion at the first
visit and so the teachers were asked to request the principals to complete the
principal’s questionnaire. The teachers were also asked to have the questionnaire on
resource availability completed by the HOD for science or an appropriate person.
Apart from the different informal discussions with each case study teacher at the start
of the research, and later with the principal of case study one, and the HOD of case
study two, and the learner groups at each school, the researcher had one semistructured formal interview with each case study teacher and with each of the groups
of learners.
The only criterion set out by the researcher, for a learner being a candidate in an
interview group, was that the learner must be able to converse well in English. It was
further expected that there would be at least one from each sex in each group
Although part of the planning was to have one interview at each school with just one
group of learners known to the case study teacher, in the end, four groups of learners
were interviewed for case study one, and two groups for case study two. One exstudent was also interviewed.
Case study one
Three groups of grade eleven learners (one group from each of the different classes)
were interviewed and a group of grade twelve learners. The grade eleven groups
consisted of four learners each, while the grade twelve group consisted of five
learners. All the groups were of mixed gender. All the learners had been science
learners of the teacher for the previous two years.
Case study two
Two groups of learners were interviewed. The first group of learners consisted of four
girls and two boys from grades ten and eleven who all knew the teacher. The second
group consisted of three girls and two boys from grade twelve, to whom the teacher
had taught science since their grade eight year (i.e. more than four years). For
purposes of “triangulation” of data, an ex-student was also interviewed.
Every interview was audio-taped and transcribed.
Classroom Observations
Case study one
Three different grade eleven classes were observed. Eight science lessons were
observed over a five-week period - interspersed by a long week-end and the teacher’s
absence for a few days.
Case study two
Four out of the five grade eight classes were observed. Eight general science lessons
were observed over a three-week period. The planning of activities for Spring Day at
this particular school so altered class times that the lessons in the week following the
first informal discussion with the teacher could not be observed, and then the spring
holidays terminated observation. Thus the total period of observation was shorter than
in case-study one.
For both case studies, field notes were used to record the observations (Edwards and
Talbot, 1999: 97). The lessons were also audio-taped. The recordings were used
afterwards for measuring the duration of an event, and for selecting and transcribing
the most significant material.
Data Analysis
The data collected was analysed under different categories that are consonant with the
conceptual framework as follows:
School Profile: culture / language and discipline policies / organization / results
for Senior Certificate examinations over a prolonged period.
Teacher Demographic Profile: formative experiences / qualifications / teaching
career and experiences
• Teaching profile:
o Knowledge of content
o Knowledge of general pedagogy
o Pedagogical Content Knowledge, e.g. how to teach using learners’
misconceptions, different approaches for different topics.
o Management skills
o Concern for learners
Validity of Data
Validity is the ‘degree’ to which an argument is valid (Cohen et al. 2000: 105).
Having multiple sources of evidence enable “triangulation” to be used and so helps in
determining construct validity of the case study evidence.
Ethical considerations
In the study every effort was made to follow proper ethical procedures as in getting
the consent of both teachers, and making sure that their confidentiality and those of
their colleagues would be respected. For this reason, in reporting the case studies,
pseudonyms are used. Furthermore, consent from the parents of each learner taking
part in an interview, was received prior to the interview. The completed questionnaires, interview transcripts and observational notes are kept in a safe place and will
be destroyed 15 years after the study.
This chapter reports the findings of this investigation. To facilitate the reading of this
chapter the school profiles of the case studies are first presented in tabular form, as
well as the findings of the school culture. A separate narrative account of each case
study will follow. The accounts, as written, endeavour to emphasize the main
constructs that were identified in analysis of this research.
Profile of the Schools
A biographical sketch of the Case Study Schools is presented in tabular form (ref.
Table 4.1). It deals with location and environment of the school, the socio-economic
factors of the area surrounding the school, the profile of the learners and their
performance, the school facilities and the facilities for teaching science.
Table 4.1
Biographical sketch of the case study schools
Profile of the School:
Environment of
School grounds
and buildings
Case Study 1
Located in a township near big
metropolitan city. Easily accessible by
tarred road that leads up to school.
Impression of area is one of poverty.
The surrounding streets are dirty with
rubbish (papers and empty cool drink
cans) lying around in the streets. The
school is situated next to a well-kept and
fenced park. A primary school borders
the school on the opposite side.
Entrance to the school is gained through
a massive iron gate with the name of the
school forming part of the welding. A
security guard is on duty. Inside the
school grounds, a tarred road leads up to
a parking area. The school grounds are
fenced with a high palisade fence and
well-kept. The school comprises a neat
double-storey brick building, with
burglar bars at every window.
Case Study 2
Located in rural area, near a fast
developing industrial area. The school is
approximately ten kilometres from the
nearest town. Easily accessible from
main road.
Neat brick houses, with nice gardens,
surround the school.
An informal settlement about 5 km
away with open veldt in-between.
From the main road, a dirt road leads up
to the school. A security guard is on
The school grounds are fenced and wellkept. The buildings are ground level
brick buildings that could do with some
maintenance. There are some broken
windows and doors.
Socio-economic status
Of area where
school is
Case Study 1
The area surrounding the school is fairly
poor to middle class. However, the
catchment area stretches from a poor
(informal settlement) area to a middle
class, well established area. Electricity
and water are supplied.
Of learners
Not all learners pay school fees.
Profile of learners and learner performance
Case Study 1
Only black learners. All learners have
proper school uniform which differs for
different days.
Enrolment in
± 1400 learners in 2006
pass rate
Average 80% (Except 2005 - 69%)
Case Study 2
The area surrounding school is fairly
poor to middle class. The catchment
area includes the informal settlement.
High unemployment exists in area.
Electricity and water are provided to
built-up area, but not to the informal
settlement, where the stands are set out
in neat rows, but have few permanent
Not all learners pay school fees.
Case Study 2
Only black learners. Not all learners
have proper school uniforms.
± 1300 learners in 2006
Average 80% (Except 2005 – 69%)
School Facilities
Case Study 1
Staff room
School Hall
Furniture: desks,
tables, chairs
Water supply
Sport fields
Computer room
31, few posters on bill boards
Yes, to school as a whole.
No, use local / common facilities
Yes, mainly empty shelves (poorly
Yes, 30 computers for the school.
Case Study 2
Yes (only since 2006).
Yes (only since 2006).
25, few posters on bill boards
Inadequate, more than two learners
share a desk in the lower grades.
To administration building and one
No, use local / common facilities
Yes, not enough space to function well.
No, not one computer in school
Facilities for teaching science
Store room for
Case Study 1
Yes – two. One for physical science and
one for Life sciences, but largely nonfunctional.
Fairly adequate.
Consumables, such as chemicals, are a
cause of concern.
Two in the science laboratory
One for chemicals and one for reusable
Case Study 2
Poorly equipped.
None. Equipment stored in recently
obtained cupboards placed haphazardly
in classrooms or offices. Chemicals
stored in old toilet.
The school culture (ref. table 4.2) is an invisible entity, difficult to define but one
becomes aware of it on visiting a school. According to Taylor et al. (1999) any
institution displays a culture or specific character when a common goal is identified
and all the members of the institution work towards achieving that purpose. The
vision held by the educators and learners, the quality of leadership, the vigour in
implementing the school’s policy on language and discipline, and even the in-school
support enjoyed by teachers, all contribute to the culture of the school.
Table 4.2
The School culture and climate of the Case Study Schools
School Culture and climate of/at the School
Language policy
In school
Case Study 1
Case Study 2
Clear vision / Learners committed to
achieve better results, Attend extra
classes during holidays, Saturdays and
Principal always present.
Mainly do higher grade work in class.
Learners, who wish to change to
standard grade, are guided according to
career options, before such a change is
Mainly English but language switching
Principal and colleagues supportive in
organizing science club, but on occasion
have been at odds with the case study
No clear vision. Learners display a
lackadaisical attitude. On ‘teachers day’
no learner were present at the school
after break.
Principal often absent.
Standard grade work mainly done in
class. Learners, who want to receive
better symbols, may switch to standard
Mainly English but language switching
Principal and colleagues give full
support and help in organizing the grade
twelve camp to case study teacher.
Each case study will be reported separately in accordance with the framework and
categories developed during the analysis of the findings.
Case Study 1 – Teacher: Charles
Biographical information
Early School Years
Charles (pseudonym) is a big man but softly spoken. He attended a rural school
during his primary school years and a township school during his secondary school
years. Both schools were former DET schools and poorly resourced. He recalls
“there was never a practical activity at school. There was not even a lab.
In the primary school I attended in the rural area, there was nothing. Even
sometimes we were sharing classes. We had a system where the grade four
class would come in the morning and the grade five class during the
afternoon, rotating weekly”.
During his secondary years things were not much different.
“In the secondary school we had a lab but … there was nothing in the lab.
I want to be honest with you. Even the taps were not there only the desks.
It was a lab by name”.
Mentor Teacher
He mentions that he has good memories of those years. He can recall one specific
teacher, whom he liked, who, when he was in grade seven said to him that he must
one day become a teacher. He was greatly influenced by this and kept it in mind
whenever he was studying.
“… that is why while I was at school studying; I was just focusing on the
field of teaching”.
At secondary school he met the brother of this teacher. He too encouraged him to
pursue a teaching career.
“He was a loving teacher, I can say, the brother to that teacher. He
continued to encourage me maybe because I used to discuss or solve
problems with other learners, helping other learners”.
Charles thought that the fact that he was always helping the other learners with
mathematical problems might have had something to do with the encouragement.
Charles was chosen as a prefect at school. He had the sport portfolio.
“At the time, before SRCs, they called us prefects at school …I had the
sport portfolio. And to be honest with you I like sports. I am a sport
Teacher training
After he left school he first had to work for a few years to raise funds to attend a
College of Education where he completed a diploma in education majoring in
mathematics and chemistry.
He sees being employed as a science or mathematics teacher as a service to South
Africa, for as he says
“What has influenced me a lot in this career of teaching maths and
science is that the people in South Africa, we, have a problem. We lack
science teachers; that is why…I want to do more in this career because I
have just seen most of the schools within the whole of South Africa or even
in Africa we have a problem with science and maths teachers. That is
why… it encourages me a lot.”
Continuing with Education/Training
An Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) followed and at present he is
completing his final year. He mentioned that he would like to first do a university
undergraduate course in physics and get a degree before studying for a higher
education degree.
Teaching career
Charles is presently in his ninth year of teaching. He started his teaching career
working at an adult education centre (ABET Centre) for three months. Then he
worked full-time for three years on a temporary basis at a school. He then moved to a
second, very well resourced school where he was appointed permanently.
At the previous two schools where he worked, Charles used to teach mathematics as
well as science, but, since he came to the present school, he has only been teaching
science. He was appointed as Head of Department for science at this school. He is
responsible for “natural science, biology (life sciences), physical science, technology
and computer science”. Being HOD has increased his workload greatly. Charles
mentioned that he took his position as HOD seriously and once reported a teacher in
his department that was not pulling his weight. He did not go into more detail, but
recalled that the memory of the whole event is rather distressing.
At the school, they are only two teachers responsible for physical science. He
explained that owing to the way in which the timetable was arranged, one of the
classes of the other teacher grew to sixty learners. Upon his suggestion, that class was
halved, and since the month of May of this year, thirty learners come to him and thirty
learners stay with the other teacher.
Leadership Positions
Apart from his duties at school, he has been a senior marker for the Senior Certificate
exam for the past five years. He was recognized by the Department of Education and
appointed as a cluster leader for science in the area. Apart from organizing monthly
cluster meetings in the area he has to moderate the grade twelve portfolios of the other
schools in his cluster and advise them if something needs improving.
For example, he indicated that different schools could share apparatus where there is a
“We help each other…. you can come and borrow any thing that you can
carry (from the school where a school has such equipment) …then you
can use it and return it thereafter.”
Part of his duties as cluster leader and moderator require him to attend various
meetings. Often he has to leave earlier at the end of the school day as he travels by
taxi to attend these meetings.
Interest in Science
Charles confesses that he used to think of himself as a mathematics teacher, but when
he started teaching he had to teach both mathematics and science. It was then that his
enjoyment of science started.
“… since I started teaching, I was just enjoying it (science)”.
Innovative projects
Charles started a science club that meet on Fridays. For the discussions he usually
chooses a topic that he knows learners experience difficulties with, like ‘equations of
motion’. The learners who come would then be divided into discussion groups and
work at solving some relevant problem.
By allowing learners from other schools in the area to attend, the club became a
community project and he included demonstrating chemistry experiments to learners.
As a means of raising funds to replenish the chemicals, Charles required some
payment from the learners of the other schools. He also trained his learners to be the
Characteristics of Teaching
Large classes
Charles indicated that the largest class he had taught was at a previous school where
he once had sixty learners in a class. Presently his largest class has fifty-four learners.
Strategies for Large classes
He explained that he uses co-operative learning for this large group:
“What I normally do, I group them. Those learners that are intelligent
and those learners that understand fast, I group them with those
learners that don’t understand fast. Then, most of the time, I use the
intelligent learners to help the others in the afternoons.”
He mentioned that he used to have a card system that he used for forming groups, but
since he now knows the learners he often just groups the learners so that each group
has learners that do well in science. These learners then help the slower ones when
they get stuck.
Another strategy Charles uses in large classes is to move around the class and to make
sure that a learner is really busy with what is required of him.
Content Knowledge
Charles knows the content he teaches well and makes sure learners understand the
meaning of the concepts as well. He spends time in explaining detail so that learners
would understand the meaning. An example is his explanation concerning the
reducing action of hydrogen sulphide.
“Now there are two half reactions. The reduction is the gaining of
the electrons, you know that? And the oxidation is the losing of the
electrons. Any substance that undergoes the process of reduction that
substance is the oxidizing agent. Is that clear? Any substance that
undergoes the process of oxidation that substance is known as the
reducing agent.
Now we are going to look at the meaning of that. Whenever the
hydrogen sulphide reacts with any substance, the hydrogen sulphide
will lose the electron. That means the hydrogen sulphide will
undergo the process of oxidation.”
General Pedagogy
Teaching strategy
Charles mainly uses direct instruction as a teaching strategy, interspersed with group
work for practical activities and co-operative group work when learners work on
problem solving exercises.
He usually starts the lesson by announcing the topic. He refers learners to the place in
his notes:
“Right on page 2 of my notes, page 2 of my notes you check there it says
there that the properties of this Hydrogen sulphide …”
Structure of Lessons
In most of the lessons observed, Charles spent some time recalling previous work,
making sure learners understood the work. He did this either by asking questions or
by marking homework. Then he introduced new work. He would either do a
demonstration or have the learners themselves perform an activity. He would end with
a discussion and summary.
Drill and practice
In the explanation of oxidation and reduction reactions, Charles indicated to the
learners that he would show them the following day how to use the reduction potential
table. He had the following to say,
“I am telling you, if you get in the exam and you know how to use
this (the reduction potential table) then you’ve got the memorandum,
because all the answers are coming from this standard reduction
potential table.”
When Charles realizes that there are certain fundamental concepts learners do not
understand he will not proceed until they do understand. During one of the lessons,
while he was dealing with inorganic gases, he wanted to make sure learners
understood the difference between sulphur, as an element and atom, and sulphur in the
compounds that form during the various reactions. So he asked them what a
compound is - a simple question. To his surprise the learners could not answer him.
He then referred them back to the chemistry they did the previous year and did not
continue with new concepts until the learners had passed a class test on the difference
between atom, element, molecule and compound.
The grade twelve learners indicated that Charles gave them two old textbooks (from
the time before the syllabus changed) to use for homework exercises. Charles was
quite strict on their using these textbooks at home. The learners gave the names of the
books and were aware that the books often explained the same concept differently.
Charles gives learners summary notes containing the main points of a topic,
“… because what I normally do; I use the textbook, prescribed book, I
can say. I don’t use only one book; I use lots of books, references. And
thereafter I combine them and thereafter I make one set of notes.”
He insisted, however, that learners must add their own notes. While he explains new
concepts no learner is allowed to make notes. The learners must then concentrate and
listen. When he has finished the explanation then the learners take notes. However,
during a practical investigation/experiment, learners must add notes even while he is
He regularly gives the learners homework. He expects the learners to complete the
homework at home, but he is usually available in the afternoon to help learners when
they do not understand the work.
When he gives homework he expects learners to do it. The following day he makes
sure that each learner has completed the work. When the learners did not do the
homework Charles would ‘lecture’ them. As one learner said:
“He would lecture us. … tell us about the future … if you need to
succeed - you must do your work. Work hard, because out there it is
Charles daily assesses learners. He continually asks questions and assesses their notes.
He realizes that some learners make mistakes when copying notes.
When he suspects that learners do not yet understand a concept but that they are either
not aware of the fact, or are too timid to indicate to him that they do not understand,
he will give a class test. The learners then either mark their own work or exchange
papers and mark each other’s paper. That way they have immediate feedback and also
come to realize any shortcomings in their understanding.
The portfolios that are done by the learners individually are marked by Charles
himself. Although he is very strict on learners doing corrections of wrong answers, he
makes sure that learners understand where they went wrong.
Since Charles is a senior marker of the exams he also constantly indicates to the
learners how certain questions will be marked and what things are important and so
must be included.
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
Charles has a good grasp of pedagogy as related to science. He mentioned that from
his experience he has come to realize that once the learners know how to write the
aim and conclusion of a practical experiment the rest of the seven skills are easily
He is aware of areas where learners have difficulties or even have alternative
concepts. For example he stressed the difference between sulphur (S), sulphide (S2-),
sulphite (SO32-) and sulphate (SO42-), when teaching about sulphur and its compounds.
An alteration of just one letter in the spelling can mean a completely different
substance. Learners are not always aware of this.
Questioning technique
When Charles teaches and has to make use of previous knowledge he seldom simply
states that knowledge. He asks a short question to make sure learners have
remembered such concepts. For example, when he wanted to explain the reactions of
the sulphur compounds he started by reminding them of the element sulphur and what
they should know of that element.
“What is the valency of sulphur?”
When the learners appeared unsure he quickly went over the Lewis dot symbol and
number of valence electrons to re-affirm the concept, stressing the difference between
valency and valence electrons. To make sure learners have grasped the concepts he
again asked
“What is the valency of sulphur?”
followed by
“How many valence electrons does sulphur have?
But he would also ask questions where he expects the learners to think, e.g.
“What does it mean when we say that we investigate the reducing
action of this hydrogen sulphide, what does it mean?”
Science in everyday experiences
An aspect of the way in which Charles teaches science is that he refers the learners to
look for examples of science in their daily lives. One of the learners gave the
following example.
“So in vectors there are no experiments but he gives us examples about
things that we do each and every day. He told us something about how
they kill a cow in the rural areas. So two guys pull the cow; the one
goes this side and the other one goes that side. So it shows there is an
angle between those two guys. And maybe those two guys are pulling
with different forces, it all depends on them. And so, I found it so
simple to understand because he did it in the way that we understand
Inquiry science
How Charles views the nature of science is clearly shown by the emphasis he places
on the role of the science laboratory. He insisted on teaching science in the laboratory.
As a learner indicated
“... before he was here there were no experiments. We never… when we
came to chemistry we never mixed chemicals and we never came to the
lab. We were just doing science by writing notes. We did not know what to
The laboratory is not equipped with gas and water is not connected to all the taps. It
seems that some of the drains are blocked. Charles mentioned that he requested the
principal to apply to the department to renovate the laboratories.
Charles revealed that while he was at the previous school he started doing every
practical activity possible. That school had a mentorship with a local university. He
said that because of this mentorship,
“The other school is well equipped. I am definitely sure that the school is
now the best school in science in the whole of the area”.
The learners confirmed that they do a lot of practical work. They could recall
experiments on the equations of motion using the trolleys and ticker-timers, electricity
experiments, chemistry experiments on the halides, bonding and the inorganic gases.
Since the school does not have a lab assistant, he indicated that he is the person
accountable for the stock and does a monthly check.
Management skills
The school has a definite policy on discipline. Late-coming is not tolerated.
Charles is very strict. He does not tolerate the learners doing homework of any other
subject in his class. Neither does he allow learners to come late. As one of the learners
pointed out it does not even help to copy your homework from someone else’s book.
Charles has some very clever ways of making sure that learners do not copy
homework. When Charles suspects that that is what a learner did, he invites that
learner to do the problem on the blackboard and then he would ask the learner to
explain to the whole class how he did it. Then, if the learner copied it, he would not be
able to give an adequate explanation.
Time management
Charles manages the time spent on different activities very well. He prepares well.
This is obvious from the way in which he started a practical lesson on the ‘types of
bonds’. The tables were arranged so that four learners could sit at a table forming a
group. Each table was supplied with two boxes containing the microchemistry sets.
Each learner received a worksheet. He then gave the learners clear step-by-step
instructions of the procedure, waiting for them to complete each step before he issued
the next instruction. Later he told them how long they had for the discussion.
“Right I am giving you 10 to 15 minutes. Please just discuss in your
group, the aim of the experiment and then the conclusion.”
When two minutes were left he told them to get on with their discussions. After
demonstrating to them how to clean the propettes, he gave them five minutes in which
to rinse the combo© plates and propettes. The learners had to put everything back in
the boxes and take the boxes to Charles. Then each learner had to individually write
the aim and conclusion of the experiment. After approximately five minutes he called
everyone to listen and then asked the learners to share what they had written as the
aim for the experiment.
Concern for Learners
Every learner is important to Charles. As one of the learners pointed out, when he
failed and wanted to quit school and find a job, Charles not only encouraged him to
stay, but gave him something to aim for. Apparently Charles had said
“I need an A from you; if I don’t get an A from you I will kill myself
not you, but myself.”
The learner’s response was
“Wow! This guy’s life is in my hands, so I have to… I have to make it
for him!”
Case study 2: Teacher – Thandiwe
Biographical information
Thandiwe (pseudonym) grew up in one of the “homeland” areas during apartheid.
Such areas were supposed to become independent and self-governing. However, these
areas often lacked infrastructure and the people in the areas lacked motivation to
Early school years
She recalls very little of her early school years, except that she attended a rural school
that was not well equipped.
Mentor teacher
In grade five Thandiwe had a maths teacher who had a big influence on her life. He
encouraged her to continue with maths and science at secondary school, because as
she mentioned he used to say to her
“when you get to the secondary school you must make sure that you take
maths and science as well as your (other) subjects. You have the
He also made her improve her English by giving her newspaper articles to read. She
was in grade six at the time.
During the interview Thandiwe, while reflecting on these earlier years, spoke with
great admiration of her first mentor teacher
“You know that he is still a teacher. We normally meet at conferences and
in workshops and when he sees me he says to the others “this is my
During the interview Thandiwe shyly revealed that she was not only a member, but
deputy president of the Student Representative Council (SRC) at the school she
attended in her grade twelve year. She shared how, at that time, they had to fight the
teachers who would not do their work properly. Her parents taught her always to have
respect for others and although she used to oppose the teachers, she always showed
due respect and today she can face those teachers without feeling embarrassed.
Teacher Training
Thandiwe describes how frustrated she was when she finished secondary school. She
did not obtain good symbols for her exam so she couldn’t get a bursary to study
further and she could not afford a bridging course in order to improve her marks.
She ended up working at a tuckshop because she didn’t know where to go. Her
mother and sister heard about this “SYSTEM thing” (An acronym for a national
intervention program called Students and Youth into Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Mathematics) and urged her to apply. She applied since it was her
“only solution”. The SYSTEM project was a pilot project trying to train learners who
hadn’t done well in grade twelve mathematics and science to become maths and
science teachers. She was one of thirty-two students who continued after the first,
bridging year.
At the local College were SYSTEM was offered, she had many interesting subjects,
doing technology, physical science, mathematics and a research program and
whatever else was needed for them to become teachers.
Of her experiences of the program she recalls
“So it was then that I became so much inspired, because everything was
The department ran the course. The students did not have to pay anything. They were
even provided with R250 every month as a stipend.
Continuing with Education/Training
Ten years since she started at the college she is continuing her studies at a local
university doing the Advanced Certificate in Education (ACE) course in natural
Teaching career
Thandiwe’s teaching career started at the present school. Seven years later, she
describes her first year of teaching as a disaster. At the beginning of that year she
shared grade eleven and grade twelve biology and chemistry classes with another
teacher who taught the physics part. She didn’t mind the biology section, but the
chemistry was another story, but as she said chemistry was one of her majors at the
college and she couldn’t really refuse to teach it. Later, in that first year of teaching
the other teacher was promoted and then she had to teach all the science. She had to
do every thing - even set the grade twelve trial exam paper, because, as she indicated,
in those years it was not yet a common exam.
Even though she had all this work to cope with, she mentioned that she was never
frustrated. She managed the organizing of her files and all the administrative work
well. However, she struggled with the content of the science curriculum.
“I struggled with the content, I confirm, that I was battling much with
content, but when coming to doing my work, organizing my things it was
not much of a problem”.
Thandiwe indicated that she saw the implementation of the new syllabus coupled with
using continuous assessment (CASS) “as something to be done”, and felt she was
fortunate to get into the system at that time.
Interest in Science
When Thandiwe started studying at the College most of her enjoyment of science
started “where at least we had a laboratory”, and the students handled apparatus like
a glass beaker, a test tube everything they had before only seen in the textbook. Now
they were doing the “real science”. During her school years as she says,
“science was far away from me. I was taking science as something that
happens somewhere, because I was reading it from the book and couldn’t
practise it”.
Innovative Projects
Some years before some of the learners at the school were invited to a science camp
for girls that the Department of Education of that Province organized. Thandiwe
accompanied the learners. The aim of the camp was to show the girls that science is a
field with careers that girls can also pursue. The Girls’ camp so inspired Thandiwe
that she now arranges a camp for the grade twelve learners toward the end of their
grade twelve year.
Thandiwe organizes a motivational speaker to encourage the learners to pursue
careers in science and to enlighten them on what to expect the following year, should
they go to a tertiary institution to further their studies. Since the camp is held close to
the final exams she also arranges for another science teacher to explain some of the
difficult concepts to the learners, maybe from a different angle. The learners also
work at problems and then she and the other teacher are there to assist them. The
camp she arranges is for all the learners not only the girls. The grade twelve learners
indicated that they were very excited. For this project Thandiwe not only had the
blessing of the principal, but also some assistance with the arrangements from other
willing teachers.
Characteristics of Teaching
Large classes
On the questionnaire Thandiwe indicated that the largest class she had taught had 72
learners and that the largest class she is presently teaching has 60 learners.
Although the school is in a rural district, owing to the fast development of the
industrial area nearby most of the learners take commercial subjects. Only a handful
of learners opt for a career in science. There is therefore only one relatively small
science class in the further education and training phase (i.e. grades ten to twelve).
Strategies for Large classes
Thandiwe follows a one-to-one assessment procedure. She sometimes marks the
books of the learners while the learners are doing class work. She then sits at a desk
next to one of the learners (looking a bit like a learner herself). The learners pass the
books on to her. After marking all in that vicinity she would move to a new place to
sit (the learners make space for her) and continues by marking the books of another
group of learners.
When teaching large classes the marking of books, homework assignments and tests
is, of course, a lot of work. Although she tries to cover all the material of a topic in an
assignment, she admitted that she asked mostly short questions so that the marking
would not be too difficult. The tests, also, are short (only one page of short questions).
The test questions are mainly instructions of one-line, for example: “Give three ways
of growing”, or “Balance the chemical equation”. For the latter item she drew lines in
front of the formulae on which the learners had to write the answers.
Thandiwe used small group work as a strategy for teaching large classes and knew the
name of each learner.
Content knowledge
She struggled with the content of the science curriculum. She admitted that doing the
ACE courses assisted her greatly with improving her content knowledge.
She knows what science knowledge is important. To illustrate, realizing how
important the charge of an ion is, she once was so upset with the learners for not
including the charge, and for calling acetic acid carbon dioxide, that at one point
during a lesson she started going from learner to learner twisting each one’s ear,
because they “do not want to listen!”
The learners also mentioned that she was very strict when it came to safety in the
laboratory. They mentioned that she doesn’t want learners near dangerous chemicals,
like strong acids, and that she herself dispenses such chemicals.
General Pedagogy
Teaching strategy
Thandiwe mainly follows a strategy of direct instruction, teaching the whole class
while all pay attention. She used a set of posters in explaining the Body System. She
follows an interactive teaching method; asking questions and expecting answers from
the learners. The learners seemed to be used to her method, because they responded in
a chorus fashion.
She often uses a problem-solving strategy in grade twelve. The learners mentioned
that they mainly work on their own or in small groups but if the problem is not solved
then the whole class together will work out a strategy to solve the problem.
At the start of her lessons she announces the topic of the lesson clearly. She refers the
learners to the place in the textbook where they will find the topic and then points out
what it is they are going to study. She also indicates to the learners the depth of an
Structure of Lesson
Thandiwe starts the lesson with a review and questions to establish how much of the
knowledge has been retained by the learners. When learners cannot give a satisfactory
answer she changes her tactic to breaking the question down into easier parts. She
continues by expounding new knowledge. In lessons following class-work exercises
were given and homework marked.
Drill and practice
The grade twelve learners indicated that they mainly use a book compiled of exam
papers and memoranda of previous years for homework exercises. Respondent 2
“when we do class-work she gives us previous papers to do for class work
and for homework”.
When Thandiwe explains concepts she relates the concepts to the relevant experience
of learners. A grade ten learner had the following to say during the interview about
the way in which Thandiwe explains:
“Her explanations are outstanding. By the way she tells things one
becomes more interested in the science field. Even the information that
she gives, is so relevant. When you go to the library or when you listen
to the radio, or TV you will see she is a prophet, a science prophet”.
In her explanations she “goes from the known to the unknown.” For example, when
explaining the Circulatory System, she used ‘the circle’ to get them to understand the
reason for calling it a ‘circulatory’ system. In one class she said:
“So it transports the blood around the body. When you think about
around …something that is round, it is circular. That is why the system is
called the circulatory system, meaning that there is a transport. The
movement is in the form of a circle.”
Although at the start of a lesson Thandiwe referred the grade eight learners to the
textbook, she did not insist on them using it and hardly noticed that only a few of the
learners had their textbooks with them.
The grade twelve learners confirmed that they all possess textbooks, but admitted that
they seldom do homework exercises from the textbooks. They indicated that the errors
in the textbook are the reason for them not using the textbook more frequently.
All the learners were in agreement that they were often given homework, and that
they had to it.
As mentioned before Thandiwe marked the grade eight scripts on a one-to-one basis.
She marked accurately for at one point she remarked out loud, that they could not
spell saying she doesn’t know how any of them want to become doctors since they
couldn’t spell lungs (they spelt “longs”) and for bladder they wrote “blunder”! She
was complaining to them that they must be more careful when copying the notes,
because she could not check every word they write.
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
One of Thandiwe’s greatest frustrations is the fact that the school is not equipped with
a laboratory. She sees a laboratory both as an area where science should be done and
where scientific equipment can be safely and consistently stored.
She was aware of misconceptions that could develop because of the way in which
colours were used and different parts of the body were shown on the poster. She acted
in a preventative way. First she pointed out that the network of veins and arteries that
the learners see portrayed on the poster are really there inside each of us but the skin
covers them.
Realizing that some learners might think there are two types of blood, because on the
poster there are blue and red lines portraying the circulatory system, she asked the
following questions:
“Why are the colour of the veins and the arteries not the same? Do
you have the green blood?”
Questioning technique
When the learners chorused no, she proceeded by asking:
“Do you have the blue blood? …Why? What is the meaning of the blue
or the green blood in the vein? What does that tell you?”
She continues with the questioning and not only makes sure the learners understand
the meaning of the colours, but also makes sure they follow the reason for the system
being a network.
Science in everyday experiences
Thandiwe uses explanations from the everyday experience of the learners. When she
wanted the learners to realize that the arteries and veins in one’s body form a network
she explained as follow:
“What is a network? They say this (referring to the poster showing the
network of arteries and veins) is a complex network. What is a network?
MTM? Vodacom? Okay, a network is the connection; when things
connect. That is why if there is no network you can usually not talk with
people. But (referring to the poster) if there is a connection they (veins
and arteries) connect so that the blood can move, néh?”
Enquiry science
Thandiwe mentioned that she felt inadequately prepared for doing practical work
when she started teaching even though she had done experiments at the College and
handled apparatus there.
She shared how her own fear of practical experiments was overcome by attending a
monthly cluster meeting. She also became involved in a programme, run by an
overseas country, to equip science teachers with the necessary skills for doing
practical investigations. Then she wanted her learners to experience “real science”
Thandiwe tries to limit the number of demonstrations and rather encourages the
learners, as far as possible, to do the experiments and investigations themselves. She
feels then they would realize that no “magic” is involved.
The learners testified to the fact that they themselves had done many experiments.
They said that they had done at least ten practical activities and could, without any
hesitation, recall preparing hydrogen sulphide gas and looking at the reducing action
of the gas. They could also remember preparing chlorine in an electro-chemical
activity and getting a deposit of copper on the other electrode. They remembered their
experiment for finding the value of “g”. They also mentioned that they had prepared
sulphur dioxide in their grade eleven year. The learners referred to these experiments
with enthusiasm.
No one at the school has been appointed to take charge of the science equipment and
it seems that no stock-taking is being done. The equipment is put in many locations in
the school, some in recently acquired cupboards with the chemicals in an unused
Management skills
The learners found Thandiwe “quite strict”. They indicated that
“It’s not actually what she does but the way she is. You can see she
is mad”.
The grade eleven girls mentioned another aspect:
“If you don’t know her, you are scared, you’ll think she is hard, but
when you get to know her better you realize she doesn’t want students to
push her or to disrespect her. Her discipline is just like our parents’ “
All the learners found that they could approach Thandiwe with a problem. The exlearner recalled how she used to encourage them to come to her with science
problems. He recalls
“I can tell 110 percent above 100 she would say: “come to me
However, he was quick to mention:
“… When you go to her, you had to have tried the problem first, you
can’t just go”.
Time management
Thandiwe’s time management was, in the lower classes, at least, relaxed. For example
during one of the lessons, she wrote four questions on the blackboard which the
learners had to copy into their books and that they then had to answer. The four
questions related directly to the notes that they had copied down during the previous
science period. The learners had ample time in which to answer these questions. They
had only to consult the notes they had written down previously. In the notes they had
a heading “Three ways to grow” followed by three ways to grow. Question one was
“Give three ways to grow”. The answers to all four questions could be found in the
previous notes which when typed out did not fill an A4 sheet. The learners did not
have to do much thinking either; they could copy the answers directly from their
notes. The learners were never hurried along during the activity. Eventually after they
had been busy for twenty-five minutes she called them to attention and started
Concern for Learners
Thandiwe’s concern for the learners is illustrated by what an ex-learner and a grade
ten learner who was part of the interview group, recall concerning the way in which
Thandiwe encouraged them.
The ex-learner mentions how Thandiwe has inspired him:
“She has been a role model to me because she said that in life you
have to be independent no matter what you do.”
When one realizes that she is not even the science teacher of the grade ten group her
intervention in the subject choice of the grade ten learner is even more remarkable. He
speaks with great admiration of how Thandiwe motivated him to continue with
“When she teaches science … she does not believe that … you need to
be a genius. You know, she believes in working hard. That is the reward
to success. I once quitted science earlier this year. I wanted to do
commercial subjects, but she called me, she told me I don’t have to be a
genius to do science”.
A summary of the profile of the teachers are given in table 4.3.
Table 4.3
Profile of the case Study teachers.
Profile of Teacher
Highest Qualification
Teaching experience
Leadership position
Largest class ever
Largest class at present
Higher grade / Standard grade
Case Study 1
Case Study 2
Final year of Advanced
Certificate in Education
9 years
Head of Department for science
at present school
Cluster leader of area
Moderates grade twelve
portfolios of area
Senior marker of Grade twelve
Physical examinations
54 (Grade twelve)
2 in 2006 (inherited), (25+ in
2007 due to encouragement
from teacher)
Final year of Advanced
Certificate in Education
7 years
None at present
56 (Grade eight)
3 in 2006
Profile of Teacher
Topic of lessons observed
Case Study 1
Case Study 2
Natural Science:
Bonding/structure in chemistry.
Inorganic Chemistry (Sulphur
and its compounds) – Grade
Life Science:
Body systems – Grade eight
Table 4.4 gives a summary of the formative experiences of each of the case study
Table 4.4
Formative experiences of the case study teachers
Formative experiences of the teacher
Case Study 1
Teacher background
School years at poor, underresourced rural school
Influence of a mentor teacher
Yes, encouraged to become a
mathematics and science teacher
Developing a View of the nature
of science
Science is a movement; is
everywhere especially in
everyday life; emphasizes
hands-on activities.
He started to enjoy science
when he started teaching it.
Initiative - projects
Science club for learners of the
Raising of funds;
Acquiring sponsor for sport
Case Study 2
School years at poor, underresourced rural school in
homeland area
Yes, encouraged to continue
with science and maths;
encouraged to read English
She sees science as ever
changing. (One needs to
continue studying to keep up);
emphasizes hands-on activities.
She started to enjoy science
when, at the college, they had
proper resources
Science Camp for grade twelve
The teaching and learning process in the classroom is summarized in Table 4.5 under
the main headings of content knowledge, general pedagogy, pedagogical content
knowledge, management skills and concern for learners.
Table 4.5
The teaching and learning processes in the Classroom.
The teaching and learning process in the classroom
Case Study 1
Content Knowledge
Good grasp
Case Study 2
Fairly good grasp – would like
to improve understanding of
General Pedagogy
Main method of instruction
Other teaching strategies
Whole class teaching / direct
Group work / co-operative
group instruction / Problem
Whole class teaching /
interactive questioning
Problem solving / group work
The teaching and learning process in the classroom
Case Study 1
Learners mainly use Charles’s
notes and what they added –
Use of textbook
Learners use textbook for
homework exercises
NCS textbooks not yet available
Case Study 2
Referred learners to relevant
page in textbook. Few learners
had textbook at school
Yes – copy from blackboard,
from textbook and paper and
pencil exercises
Yes – copy homework
assignment from blackboard;
one page paper and pencil
Paper and pencil tests;
Portfolio assignments;
Making of own notes;
Formal tests
Paper and pencil tests;
Portfolio assignments; Formal
E.g. Emphasizes differences
between sulphide ion, sulphite
ion, sulphate ion.
e.g. Blue/red colour of veins and
arteries on poster
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
Emphasize possible
Applications from everyday life
Yes –
Forces (pulling a cow)
Volume (buying a tin of coke)
Area (tiling an area)
Inquiring science
Do many practical (hands-on)
Time Management
Efficient Time on task; Manages
pacing - well
Managing Resources
Monthly stock taking by teacher
Managing the Language Policy
in the classroom
Allows language/code switching
during discussions of findings of
a practical experiment.
Concern for learners
Yes – encouraged grade eleven
learner to continue at school and
not become a drop-out
Yes –
Rates of reactions: Grandpa
powder advertisement (the
powder has a greater surface
area and reacts faster),
Equations of Motion: travelling
by taxi (by knowing the distance
and checking the travelling
speed the learner could calculate
time of arrival).
Do as many practical activities
as resources allow.
Sometimes late or leaves while
learners work at copying from
blackboard; Manages pacing fair
No one at school in charge
Allows language/code switching
more often in latter part of
lessons (10 times to 3 times in
first part of lesson).
Yes – encouraged grade ten
learner to continue with science
In the next chapter a discussion of the findings will be given.
The aim of this chapter is to comment on findings from the case studies in relation to
the research questions. Similarities and differences in the situations existing in the two
case studies are highlighted and discussed in accordance with the framework that
guided the study.
Three themes have been identified that could have an impact on effective teachers.
The first theme attends to the teaching and learning process in the classroom and
endeavours to answer the first research question ‘What does an effective science
teacher have and do in the classroom while teaching large, under-resourced science
classes and how and why do these actions bring about effectiveness?’
The second theme will attend to the second research question ‘What formative
experiences have influenced the behaviour of the teacher and how and why have they
contributed to effectiveness?’ In reporting on the findings of the case studies aspects
pertaining to the individual biographical background and training of each case study
teacher and the influence this have had on forming the present views of the teachers,
in particular the view of the nature of science will be discussed.
The third theme: is concerned with the third research question ‘what in-school support
does the effective teacher have that sustains the practice and how and why does this
support lead to continuing effectiveness?’ and will be addressed.
Discussions of the themes
The Teaching and Learning process in the classroom
This theme deals with the following subheadings:
Knowledge of Content
The teachers of both case studies had a good grasp of the content (ref. 4.3.3 and 4.4.3)
in relation to the grades they teach. However, both mentioned a desire to get a better
understanding of physics.
Knowledge of Pedagogy
The case study teachers were confident in the teaching styles they used. As has been
suggested by Johnson et al. (2000a) teachers often have a variety of strategies they
can choose from, but they choose the strategy that best fits their environment. That
was found to be true of the case study teachers. They also seem to have no difficulty
in teaching science in the large classes, almost automatically applying the strategies
identified for use in large classes, which are knowing the names of learners, moving
around the class, dividing the class into groups - to mention but a few. This finding is
in agreement with the conclusions of Crouch et al. (1998) and Verspoor (2006a) that
better qualified teachers seem to cope better with teaching large classes.
In case study one the school had not yet procured textbooks based on the NCS
curriculum. At the school there were not enough copies of the old syllabus textbooks
to issue one to each grade eleven learner. However, the grade twelve learners each
had received a copy of the textbook, which they were to consult at home and use for
extra exercises. At times, the grade eleven learners worked in groups during a lesson
on problem-solving exercises from the textbook used under the old syllabus (ref.
4.3.4). In case study two the learners in the higher grades confessed that although they
had all been issued with a textbook, they seldom used it, since it was full of errors. In
the grade eight class Thandiwe referred to the textbook during her lessons, but did not
insist on them using the textbook and seemed hardly to notice that only a few learners
had brought their textbooks with them (4.4.4).
Homework was seen by both teachers as an extension of ‘opportunity to learn’
(Reynolds et al., 1999). However, in the higher grades the homework (and class work
exercises) seemed to be based on training learners for the Senior Certificate exams as
Warwick and Stephenson (2002: 146) indicate “the need for pupils to do well in
statutory assessments, dominates attitudes to what is seen as important in the
In case study one, homework was given almost everyday and assessed the following
day, by either learners exchanging books and marking each other’s work or by
Charles asking some learners to do the problems on the blackboard and then asking
others to explain the answer to the rest of the class (ref. 4.3.4). Neither teacher had
problems with regularly assessing the work done by learners in their exercise books.
In case study one Charles marked the notes learners added to his notes during the
afternoon classes and Thandiwe marked the scripts while learners were engaged in
class work exercises. Both teachers marked thoroughly taking care of details such as
general spelling mistakes and errors. However, in case study two, the huge marking
load Thandiwe experienced in having so many grade eight learners, led to her
designing assignments that could be marked easily. Therefore not much writing was
required. Learners mainly had to fill in missing words or do simple calculations.
Similarly the class work exercises the grade eight learners did, only involved recalltype questions (ref. 4.4.4). These findings are in agreement with what has been found
in the literature (Taylor and Vinjevold, 1999).
Management skills
The personalities of both case study teachers were such that they commanded respect.
They both had strong leadership qualities which assisted them in managing discipline,
classroom environment, and equipment well. They both showed that they could be
innovative, and organize, and manage out-of school scientific projects in the form of
the science club and the grade twelve science camp (ref. 4.3.1 and 4.4.1). In case
study one, Charles maximized time-on-task, and wasted little time in proceeding from
one activity or section of a lesson to the next. He had well-structured lessons and told
learners how many minutes they had in which to complete an activity (ref. 4.3.6). In
case study two, during the lessons observed in the grade eight classes, there was not a
maximizing of available time. Thandiwe often arrived late for class (it seems each
time for a valid reason), activities were never rushed and learners were not urged to
finish in a fixed time (ref. 4.4.6).
Pedagogical Content Knowledge
Both teachers displayed an understanding of ways in which to present subject content
that would make it understandable to learners. For instance, in case study one, when
Charles explained the reaction between hydrochloric acid and iron(II) sulphide in the
preparation of hydrogen sulphide, he used small steps in his explanation and made
drawings on the blackboard. He referred to the particulate nature of chemistry,
showing learners how the substances dissociated into ions, how to calculate the
charges of the ions and how ions bond to form the products. In case study two,
Thandiwe used known concepts to explain the unknown, as in her illustration of the
circle for the circulatory system (ref. 4.4.4).
It is equally interesting that both teachers were aware of topics that learners have
difficulty with, and spent more time in explaining such topics. The teachers were
conscious of misconceptions that learners could develop and took preventative action.
Certainly, the amalgamation of content in the teachers’ minds and their knowledge of
learners’ misconceptions, facilitated the understanding of the concepts being taught.
The teachers asked guiding and probing questions at various levels that provided
insight into learners’ conceptual understanding (ref. 4.3.5 and 4.4.5).
The frustration experienced in both case studies in not having functional laboratories,
and, in case study two, of the science equipment being haphazardly stored, reflects
strongly the view of the nature of science these teachers have and how it should be
transmitted and facilitated in learners. The case study teachers view science as
experimental and are consequently aware of the need for functioning laboratories.
Secondly, they view science as a human activity. By relating the topic to familiar
everyday activities both teachers not only make learners aware of the socio-cultural
relevance of science, but challenge the learners to use science as one of the organizing
factors in their outlook on life. Consequently science becomes meaningful and
accessible to learners (ref. 4.3.5 and 4.4.5). The learners were clearly aware of this
and could, during the interviews, recall many such instances of finding science in
everyday life experiences.
Both case study teachers emphasized practical activities. To them science must be
experienced. According to Thandiwe, recalling her own disappointment at school, a
colour change should be seen and not merely ‘read about’. Both teachers place a great
emphasis on hands-on activities and the lack of resources is keenly felt. The
excitement the learners displayed in relating the practical experiments they had done
also shows the positive influence such activities have on the attitudes of learners
towards science.
Concern for learners
From the observations and interviews with the learners it is apparent that both
teachers care for their learners and that the learners are aware of this concern and, in
turn, respect these teachers (ref. 4.3.7 and 4.4.7). The teachers are sensitive to feelings
of inadequacy learners might have and are willing to explain work over and over to
individual learners after hours. Both teachers are doing more than is expected to
benefit their learners, which is clear, for instance, from the camp Thandiwe is
organizing for her grade twelve learners and the extra time Charles spends in teaching
over weekends and in organizing the science club. The learners were able to mention
incidents that indicated the concern these teachers have for all their learners.
Christie et al. (2007) found that it is the fine teaching staff (committed teachers,
teachers that are passionate about the subject they teach, teachers willing to go an
extra mile, etc.) that, in the end, are responsible for a “school that works”. As is stated
in the NCS document “teachers who are qualified, competent, dedicated and caring”
are the teachers wanted for teaching science (DoE, 2003: 5). Both teachers of the case
studies fit these descriptions.
In summary it could be said that both the case study teachers have a good knowledge
of the content; they have an excellent understanding of general pedagogy and are
accomplished in applying pedagogical content knowledge. In the classroom they
apply the pedagogical content and general knowledge to sustain the effective practice.
Furthermore the view of the nature of science both these teachers hold influences their
teaching styles. The emphasis they place on hands-on activities in return creates a
positive attitude towards science among the learners. The learners are motivated and
eager to perform well. These teachers show a passion for their subject and both of
them are willing to go the extra mile in helping the learners to grasp concepts
properly. Their concern for their learners has earned them respect and admiration.
Formative experiences of the teacher
Savage (1999: 147) pointed out that individuals bring about change. He argued that
more needs to be known of what inspires and sustains excellence in an individual
teacher so that educators can develop support systems and sustain work of excellence.
To this end, information on the formative experiences of the teachers was sought.
Biographical background
The deprivation both teachers experienced during their own formative years has
resulted in their desiring to give their learners practical science experiences (ref. 4.3.1
and 4.4.1). The fact that they could only “read about a colour change”, but never saw
it happening, and felt that science was ‘far away’; influenced the view they today hold
of the nature of science, namely that science is something to be practised.
Influence of Mentor teachers
Both case study teachers had a mentor teacher that they affectionately remember.
They both agree that these mentor teachers influenced them to become teachers ‘one
day’. In case study two, the way in which the mentor teacher challenged Thandiwe to
first become fluent in English and then guided her by giving her newspaper articles
shows his foresight in guiding her. The confidence the mentor teachers displayed in
the ability of the case study teachers to achieve that goal, sustained these two in
difficult times. Savage (1999: 149) mentions a similar finding where the support and
challenges of a primary school teacher to “always strive for perfection” influenced a
learner to pursue a career in teaching.
Influence of families and a political climate
The encouragement they received from their families in becoming teachers, coupled
with a political drive Charles alluded to of “being of some value to his country’ have
resulted in them becoming qualified teachers and having a passion for the profession.
This is in agreement with Onwu and Mogari (2004: 174) who referred to a climate of
expectation vis-à-vis the democratic climate of the ‘new’ South Africa as one of the
things that brings about favourable changes in teachers. Christie et al. (2007: 59) also
pointed out that, to some teachers their teaching is much more than a profession; they
are contributing significantly to the future of the country.
Training and Classroom learning and teaching environment
The opportunity the case study teachers had of each studying at a well-resourced
College of Education, contributed to them having a good grasp of content knowledge
sufficient and relevant for the FET level. Studying science at an institution where
‘everything was perfect’ for Thandiwe, and, for Charles, teaching science at a very
well resourced school has some bearing on the view they have of the nature of
science. Thandiwe realized that the subject is not necessarily difficult or easy, but that
one needs to “find out”. Charles displayed the same concerns and, in his teaching, did
more than the required number of experiments. That both teachers are in the final year
of ACE (FET) courses, however, indicates their awareness of the fact that their
knowledge of the physical science content should still improve. In case study one,
Charles referred to the help he had received at the previous school where they had a
mentorship with a local university. In case study two Thandiwe mentioned how she
became part of the MSSI (Mpumalanga Secondary Science Initiative) and how this
partnership had contributed to her ability to do practical work.
In summary, the influence of mentor teachers, coupled with the encouragement of
family members and a political drive to be of value to the country have led to both
case study teachers pursuing the teaching profession. The deprivation they themselves
suffered as children, never having been able to do science practically, only
experiencing a dysfunctional science laboratory, have become a motive behind the
emphasis both teachers place on doing and experiencing science and on the
importance they place on the laboratory as the place where scientists work. The
lament of both teachers that they lack proper facilities is a clear indication of how
much they value a functional classroom learning environment. The view of the nature
of science as being a human and social activity that must be experienced practically
has not only influenced their teaching but led to them creating a positive attitude
towards science in the learners they teach.
Culture/climate of the School
Vision of the schools
In case study one, the shared vision (of working together to improve results) of both
staff and learners in the school was obvious, as shown, for example, by learners and
teachers coming to school during the holidays and on Saturdays (and even Sundays,
on occasion).
In case study two, owing to the lack of a shared vision of the staff and learners, the
learners were not as motivated as one would hope. Only grade twelve learners
attended afternoon classes and on “Teachers Day” there were hardly any learners left
on the school grounds after break, despite the fact that the minister of education had
emphasized that it was not a school holiday. Although all the teachers seemed to be
there, they did not seem particularly upset about the learners being absent. Whether
the learners took the initiative to organize the stay-away (or maybe the “not return”
after break) is not clear. This evidences a culture of slackness.
Academic leadership
The academic leadership of the school principal in case study one, was positive showing not just interest, but taking pride in the achievement of learners. In an
informal discussion the principal referred to the fact that the school acknowledges
excellence and that teachers and learners appreciate this. The School Governing Body
(SGB) was at that time organizing a prize-giving evening to honour those learners that
had performed well. Charles’s science club had become the science club of the
community. All these factors led to the sense of well-being of the school.
However, in case study two, the image the principal seemed to convey to the learners
was that he was a very busy man - one who did not take a direct interest in the
learners and their activities. A teacher with a vision and a passion for success, who is
driven to improve, must then put in an added effort to motivate learners - like
Thandiwe, in organizing the camp for grade twelve learners. She took the initiative,
and involved the school principal in her camp by asking him to be the guest speaker
and to motivate the learners to success in his address.
The institutional support is also evident in terms of school policies (discipline,
language, security, etc.) and the implementation. Though at both schools English was
the medium of instruction, a temporary change to the vernacular was made whenever
it would increase the understanding of learners. At the rural school (case study two), a
change to the vernacular in class occurred more often than in the township school,
doubtless because English is used less in the rural areas and so learners are less
proficient in it. This implies that increasing the proficiency in English of the learners
should improve the results in science - proficiency in the language of instruction is,
after all, one of the determinants for success in science and maths (CDE, 2004).
Job satisfaction
An entity that was not an element in the original framework but that seems to
contribute to a teacher being effective is that of ‘job satisfaction’. Reddy (2006: p.
108) mentions ‘teachers’ job satisfaction’ as a contributing factor to school climate.
Although both the case-study teachers complained of a huge work load, they
nevertheless were committed and passionate about their teaching. Charles had
previously sacrificed much to arrange his science club on Friday afternoons and
lamented that he did not have enough time with his added responsibilities of HOD and
cluster leader to continue with the club. Thandiwe put a tremendous effort into
arranging the grade twelve camp which took a lot of her free time. She did it heartily
and enthusiastically for the benefit of the learners. Neither seemed to regret the extra
time they put into their teaching. Both these teachers expected much from their
learners and the learners were aware of the expectations. From all this it is clear that
both teachers took initiative, could organize well and received due support for their
efforts from the principal, colleagues and the community. Commitment is certainly
one of the key qualities of an effective teacher in teaching large classes.
In summary, when a school has a shared vision, then everybody contributes to the
well-being of the school. Where such vision is lacking, the individual who strives to
improve matters must put in an effort. Sometimes such an ‘added effort’ cannot be
sustained. However, often the effort of a single person alone is not enough to improve
matters. In case study one everybody in the school worked towards improving the
school results, not only the grade twelve learners. Learners and teachers alike were
supported, encouraged and motivated to change. The school was functional. In case
study two at times the school was not functioning properly, yet there were teachers
really helping each other and the learners. A greater effort on the part of individuals
was required. Such practice and support lead to continuing effectiveness.
The study tried to gain an insight into what an effective science teacher does in the
classroom while teaching large, under-resourced classes, how such effective teaching
is sustained and what factors in the background of the teacher led to the teacher being
effective. Furthermore the study probed the in-school support and how it contributes
to the effectiveness of the teacher. In addition the study attempted to gain some
insight into how the view of the nature of science that an effective teachers has, was
formed and how the teacher’s view of the nature of science influences his or her
In an attempt to focus the investigation of the study a framework was developed and
used in gauging the effectiveness of a teacher. Within the framework, first the
characteristics of the teacher in the classroom were investigated under the headings
content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge,
management skills and concern for learners. Second the influence of the formative
years of the teacher was analysed, since the biographical background of the teacher
influences and directs his/her view on teaching and of the nature of science. Thirdly,
the culture of the school where the teacher works is described, for it appears, in the
light of recent research, that effective teaching is to a large extent only possible at
schools with a positive culture, aimed at working together to produce good results.
The findings of this study are as follows:
The effective teachers first of all had a good grasp of the content of the subject.
Second, the teachers had ample pedagogical content knowledge. The teachers
recognized when misconceptions could arise. They explained concepts in small steps
using examples from everyday life experiences of the learners. Thirdly, the teachers
applied general pedagogy. They knew and used a variety of teaching strategies such
as co-operative group instruction and problem-solving strategies. They were aware of
those strategies that had been identified as useful in large classes, e.g. knowing the
names of the learners, moving around the class and using small-group instruction, and
could apply them. The effective teachers had well-planned structured lessons. They
started with reviewing previous concepts, then expounded new content, followed this
up with class activities and ended by extending the ‘opportunity to learn’ in giving
homework exercises. They placed a great emphasis on ‘opportunity to learn’
(sometimes referred to as ‘time on task’) by moving quickly from one activity to the
other, and managing the time in the classroom well. They motivated the learners to
work. They were strict and expected learners to be responsible and disciplined. They
expect much of their learners, and insist upon frequently and regularly assessing the
learners’ work and then give constructive feedback.
The vision and passion those teachers have were at least partly due to their mentor
teachers. Encouragement from family and having had the opportunity to study at
colleges of education and having been part of a mentorship (for Charles with a local
university and for Thandiwe having been part of the MSSI partnership) at the start of
their teaching careers contributed to the effectiveness of these teachers and the view
they have of the nature of science.
However, the shortage of resources these teachers experience hampers them in their
teaching. Both teachers see science as something to be experienced. Therefore they
emphasize hands-on activities. In an attempt then to teach science in that way, they
insist, at the least, on a well-resourced laboratory, one having its facilities in working
order and having the necessary equipment for all learners to do practical
investigations and standard experiments.
The culture of the school influences the practice of the teachers. Where a school has a
joint vision, strong academic leadership and in-school support, effective teaching
seems to occur, and is sustained.
Limitations of the Study
A limitation of this study is that it deals essentially with just two cases – certainly
many more would have expanded the time and work involved beyond the original
intention. However the questions asked can only be answered using a case-study
method. The limitation is the small number of samples. Indeed Yin (2003: 37)
cautions that generalizing from a single case to a larger group can only be done if the
study can be replicated. He mentions that case studies could expand or generalize
theories but should not be generalized to populations (Yin, 2003: 10). In this regard
one could usefully form theories from the findings of this present study and perhaps
incorporate them in a teacher-training program.
The view teachers have of the nature of science influences the way they teach.
Teachers, who view science as a human activity that must be experienced, should then
be provided with the minimum equipment and facilities. Teacher education should
emphasize professional identity of reform-minded, pre-service teachers in science.
Both these effective teachers had support at the start of their teaching careers on
implementing practical activities and doing science. There should be an on-going
support system for the teachers to help them cope with the demands of the
curriculum. Even in pre-service teacher training programmes the value and
techniques of practical work should be inculcated in the prospective teachers. This of
course can be furthered by practical work, which should form a large part of the
atmosphere of their training at university or college.
Recommendations for further research
Although the teachers acknowledged that they use textbooks in their lesson
preparation, both these teachers used the textbook mainly as a book with extra
exercises, and did not use the textbook as a curriculum interpreter. It would be of
interest to find out why teachers do not use the textbook as such in large classes, and
why learners seem to find textbooks of not much help, either.
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This classroom interaction instrument is to be completed by the observer for each classroom session on each of the stipulated days of observation.
Name of observer:
Name of teacher:
Number of students present
Number of students absent:
Time of day:
1st period
Before break
After break
In between
Total time
Period number:
Last period
Observation description
Asks question to learners
Answer teacher’s
Answers own questions
Answers student’s
Ask questions to teacher
Asks: “Any questions?”
Writes on blackboard
Talk to each other
Dictates question
Copy from blackboard
Marks exercise books
Copy dictation
Not in room
Muck about
Observation description
Asks question to learners
Answer teacher’s
Answers own questions
Observation description
Answers student’s
Ask questions to teacher
Asks: “Any questions?”
Writes on blackboard
Talk to each other
Dictates question
Copy from blackboard
Marks exercise books
Copy dictation
Not in room
Muck about
Asks question to learners
Answer teacher’s
Answers own questions
Answers student’s
Ask questions to teacher
Asks: “Any questions?”
Writes on blackboard
Talk to each other
Dictates question
Copy from blackboard
Marks exercise books
Copy dictation
Not in room
Muck about
This questionnaire is to be completed by the teacher after the introductory meeting.
Name of researcher:
Title of Teacher:
Language most often used
in Teaching:
18 - 25
Mother tongue
Your Primary School Years:
Area in which school(s) is/are situated?
Type of school?
How would you describe your primary
school years?
Give a short description of your primary
school years. Was there any event, person
(individual) or decision that had a profound
influence on your life? Mention it shortly.
(c) Your Secondary School Years:
Area in which school(s) is/are situated?
Type of school?
How would you describe your secondary
school years?
Give a short description of your secondary
school years. Was there any event, person
(individual) or decision that had a profound
influence on your life? Mention it shortly.
(d) Your Post School Years:
How did you spend the first few years after
you had finished with schooling?
26 - 35
36 - 45
45 - 60
Both English and
mother tongue
and studied
Give a short description of the first few
years after you had finished your school
career. Was there any event, person
(individual) or decision that had a profound
influence on your life? Mention it shortly.
Please indicate your academic and professional qualifications
Year obtained
To which level have you studied natural science?
To which level have you studied Mathematics?
Are you currently registered for any science or
mathematical studies?
Which studies are you registered for?
If yes,
At which institution are you registered?
Have you participated in INSET in the past three
If yes, elaborate:
Number of Years employed as a teacher
Number of different schools where you have taught
Type of schools where
Primary school
Secondary school
you have taught
Number of years employed as a teacher at the present school
(a) First teaching experience
Were you adequately prepared?
Special needs school
Was there any mentor(s) (present
and past) that had a profound
influence on you? Elaborate.
(b) Experience as a teacher of grade 12 (matric) class.
After how many years in teaching did you have your first matric class?
First year (date) in which you had a grade 12 (matric) class.
First year (date) in which you had a grade 12 (matric) class for science. Year
How many times (number of years) have you taught a grade 12 (matric)
class for science (Include the present year if applicable).
(c) Teaching experience in general
Teaching which grade do you find most challenging?
To many
How would you
Large number of
Learners to
describe a large class?
classroom space.
A combination
of the afore
Numerically how large was the largest class you taught?
Is the school equipped with a science laboratory?
Do you usually do practical work in a science laboratory?
This questionnaire is to be completed by the School Principal. If available, then by Deputy School Head or
Person in Charge.
Name of researcher:
Name of School:
Title of respondent:
Highest grade offered at school:
Does the school have a clear policy on the following:
(a) Language policy at the school:
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(ii) What is the predominant medium (language) of instruction at the school
(b) Policy on personal responsibility:
The demands made on learners and staff concerning personal responsibility, (such as
absenteeism, insufficient preparation and poor motivation) and certain expectations, and
the consequences of not living up to the demands
(iii) If Yes (elaborate)
(iv) What do you estimate to be the daily absentee rate for learners (%)?
(v) What do you estimate to be the daily absentee rate for the teaching staff (%)?
(c) Policy on the academic subjects and activities the school offers:
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(d) Assessment policy and policy for providing information about learner
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(e) Policy on activities and events available to learners outside classes:
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(f) Policy on guidance and counseling of learners:
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(g) Policy on the numbers of learners in a class:
(i) If Yes (elaborate)
(a) Supervision:
(i) By whom are educators in the school supervised in respect of:
• Preparation and appropriateness of term/year programme (scheme of work)
Preparation and suitability of lessons and assessment tasks
Recording and reporting of assessment
(ii) Describe process and frequency of supervision. In particular describe processes for checking
progress in the delivery of the curriculum.
(b) How often are staff meetings held?
(c) What responsibilities are delegated to educators?
(d) Who is responsible for acquiring equipment (desks, chairs, equipment for science laboratory
(e) Liaison with parents:
(i) Who at school is responsible for liaison with parents?
(ii) What structures are in place for liaison with parents?
(f) Liaison with the community:
(i) Who at school is responsible for liaison with the community?
(ii) What structures are in place for this?
(g) In what ways do parents and the broader community (distinguish clearly) contribute to the delivery
of education and management of the school?
Broader community
Parent teacher association (PTA) input
Skill/knowledge input
Sports, drama, coaching
Decision making
Influential groups of individuals
(a) Matriculation pass rate:
(i) Is the school matriculation pass rate falling or rising in the last 5 years?
School pass rate
Pass rate for boys
Pass rate for girls
What are the main reasons for improvement or decline in performance?
(ii) Is the school matriculation pass rate in science falling or rising in the last 5 years?
School pass rate in science
Pass rate in science for boys
Pass rate in science for girls
What are the main reasons for improvement or decline in performance in science?
(b) What is the learner achievement of which the school is most proud? Elaborate
(a) Improving Qualifications:
(i) Are teachers encouraged to improve their qualifications by
further study, attending workshops, other means?
(ii) Are teachers who are studying allowed time-off for exams?
(iii) Are teachers who are studying allowed time-off for
completing assignments?
(b) After school activities
(i) Are teachers encouraged and supported to take learners on
excursions related to the subject they teach after school
(ii) Are teachers encouraged to let learners participate in school
related competitions?
(iii) Have the school participated (in the past) in any of the following competitions?
Expo for
(iv) Are teachers expected to help with the coaching of sport
after school hours?
Thank you for completing this questionnaire.
This survey of resources is to be completed by die Head of Department for Science or someone
appointed by him/her.
Name of researcher:
E. S. Randall
School grounds
Is the school fenced?
Is there a hut for the security guard?
Number of dustbins on the grounds?
Number of motor sized gates for entering grounds?
Number of pedestrian gates for entering grounds?
School buildings
Are the school buildings built with bricks and mortar?
Are there any pre-fabricated buildings?
Is there a school hall?
Are there chairs for spectators during a function in the hall?
Is there a larger than normal room wherein a Grade could gather?
Number of classrooms?
Number of other rooms?
Store rooms
Is there running water from taps at the school?
Approximately how many taps? Less than 5
10 - 15
Place where taps are found?
On school grounds
In classrooms In ablution
Is there electricity?
Does each classroom have electrical plug connection?
What are plug connections in classrooms mainly used for? (Elaborate)
Are there sufficient light fittings in the classrooms?
Ordinary light
Light fittings require:
Is the ablution sufficient?
For Staff
Are the toilets
Neon strip lights
For Learners
Water based
Non water
Is there a separate administration building?
Are there toilets in the administration building?
Is there a staff room?
Is the staff room furnished
A chair for each teacher
Offices are available for?
Is there an office for the secretary?
Is there a safe?
Is there a copier?
Is there a store room?
Is there a fax machine?
Is there a telephone?
Are there cubicles (post boxes) for each teacher?
Is there a kitchen?
A stove or
Is the kitchen furnished with?
A microwave
Class rooms
Is there a table or desk for the teacher?
Is there a chair for the teacher?
Is there a cupboard for storing things?
Does the cupboard have a lock?
Are there any shelves?
Is there any billboard for posters / notices?
Is there sufficient number of desks for each learner?
Is there sufficient number of chairs for each learner?
Is there a blackboard?
Is there a whiteboard?
Is sufficient chalk available?
Are sufficient white board markers available?
Is there an overhead projector?
Is each class equipped with a dustbin?
Is (at least one) classroom equipped with curtains? (To darken the
Are there any heaters / coolers (fans) in the classrooms?
Science Laboratory
Is there a science laboratory?
Is there a laboratory for biology?
Number of laboratories at the school?
Are the laboratories equipped with electricity?
Are the laboratories equipped with gas?
Are the laboratories equipped with running water?
Is the science equipment sufficient for demonstrating each
Is the science equipment sufficient for doing each experiment in
small groups?
Are there sufficient storerooms for science equipment?
Are there sufficient shelves (cupboards) for equipment?
Are there enough chemicals?
Is there a storeroom for chemicals?
Is there a storeroom for dangerous chemicals i.e. concentrated
A fridge
A kettle
Are there sufficient shelves (cupboards) for chemicals?
Are there posters i.e. Periodic Table?
Are the posters stored in library?
Science Equipment
Chemistry apparatus
Beehive shelves?
Bell jars?
Bourdon gauge
Bunsen burners?
Cork borer sets?
Crucibles and lids
Drop pipettes?
Electronic scale?
Erlenmeyer flasks?
Filter paper
Gas connections?
Gas cylinders?
Gas syringes
Gauze flat form
Glass beakers?
Do the glass beakers have different sizes?
Glass plates?
Glass tubes?
Measuring cylinders?
Do measuring cylinders have different sizes?
Microchemistry sets (Somerset)?
Microchemistry sets fully equipped?
Organic chemistry sets?
Pipe clay triangles
Number if
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Pneumatic trough
Retort ring
Retort stand
Round bottomed flasks?
Rubber stoppers?
Scalpel blades
Separating funnel
Spirit burners?
Test tube brushes?
Test tube racks?
Test tubes?
Three beam balances?
Triangular files (for cutting glass tubes)?
Volumetric flasks?
Watch glasses
Winchester flasks?
Physics apparatus
AC power supply boxes?
Ball and ring apparatus available?
Circuit boards?
Coils (demonstrating Lenz’s law)?
Different lengths of wire?
Different types of wires (copper; nichrome;
Electric bells?
Number if
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Energy conversion set?
Equipment to demonstrate the electric motor? Yes
High voltage power supply?
Joule meter?
Lenses (concave; convex)?
Light beam sets?
Light bulbs (torch)?
Masses (weights)?
Meter rules?
Perspex triangles (prisms)?
Polaroid lenses?
Ripple tank?
Sound generator?
Specific heat capacity sets?
Spring balances?
Static electric sets?
Transformer demonstration kit?
Trolley runway
Tuning forks?
U-shaped strong magnet?
Vacuum flasks?
Vacuum pump?
Van de Graaff generator?
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Wire connections with banana connections?
Wire connections with crocodile clips?
Wires with differing thicknesses?
1.5 V cells (batteries)?
12 V car battery?
Power supply boxes (1 – 12 V DC)?
Long (15 m) tape measure?
Number if
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Earth and beyond
Different types of rocks available?
Aneroid barometer?
Computer laboratory
Is there a separate computer laboratory?
How many computers available for use by learners?
How many computers available for use by staff?
Is there internet connection?
Is there a printer available?
Is there a separate library?
May learners borrow books from the library?
Period for which books may be borrowed?
Periods for which Library is
Every day
Number if
Number if
Number if
Once a week
After school
Mention any thing you may deem important:
Thank you very much for the time spent in completing this survey.
This interview is held with the teacher after the Teacher questionnaire has been completed to clarify
some of the points of the questionnaire and to gain additional information that follows from the
Regarding your own school years: were there any event / person that had a profound influence on
your life? Discuss it shortly.
Were you a leader at school, or a chairperson of a club or society?
Discuss any leading role you played.
What events led to your decision to become a teacher?
Describe your college / university years.
Describe your first experience as a teacher of a science class, (of a grade 12 class).
Were you adequately prepared?
Did you have any mentor teacher? Elaborate.
When did you start to feel comfortable in your career?
How has the change in the curriculum (OBE) influenced your teaching?
How do you now feel about the new curriculum?
Teaching which grade, do you find most challenging?
Please elaborate on reasons why you find a certain grade most challenging.
Do you teach different grades differently?
How would you describe a large class?
How else could you describe a large class?
How large is the largest class that you have taught? Which grade was that?
How large was your largest grade 12 class?
What is different in teaching a large class to teaching a smaller class?
Discuss some strategies that you use in teaching large classes.
How large are your present classes?
Do you have standard grade and higher grade pupils in the same class?
How do you differentiate?
Describe your experiences with practical work (experiments) in science.
Were you adequately prepared for practical work? Elaborate.
Do you have adequate resources to conduct the experiments?
How do you conduct portfolio experiments with your learners?
Do you do practical work differently with different grades?
Do you give the learners assignments where they have to do investigations in class?
Have you given learners assignments where they had to do practical investigations at home?
Have you given learners research investigations to do where they would have to make use of books in
the library or make use of getting information off the internet?
Would you give such assignments if the learners had adequate resources? Elaborate.
What was your worst experience during your first year of teaching?
During your career so far?
What teaching experience will you always remember?
Do you encourage learners to take part in science competitions?
How do you find out about such competitions?
Have you had learners that have taken part in the Expo for young scientists?
Have you had learners that wrote the science Olympiad? Discuss briefly.
Do you take learners on excursions? Elaborate.
How do you cope with a huge work load, and studies?
Elaborate on your involvement in the community.
This interview is held with a group of learners.
They will represent the learners whom the teacher is presently teaching or had taught and/or learners
with whom the teacher has had some contact. Questions regarding the following aspects will be asked:
Large classes
How do the learners perceive a large class? What would they say constitutes a large class?
How large was the largest class that the learners had been part of?
Do they think that the classes they are now part of are large classes?
Does each learner have a desk to sit at?
Is the light in the classrooms sufficient or do they feel that the classes are dark and stuffy?
How well is the library equipped at the school? Will the learners be able to do research on science
topics from the books and magazines in their school library?
Are there enough textbooks available for each learner? Do learners have to buy their own copy of the
textbook or are the issued with a book?
Are learners given photocopies of relevant work? Or do learners have to copy all notes from the
Are tests given as photocopies or are the questions written on the blackboard?
Do the learners think that the school is adequately equipped with necessary resources for doing
practical work in science?
Does the teacher make use of posters in the class, while explaining certain topics?
Are there relevant posters on the walls of the science class / laboratory to enhance a science
Does the teacher show a personal interest in the students – by
talking to them,
helping them when they are in trouble,
consider their feelings?
Does the teacher make all the decisions?
How are the learners organized in class?
Are they told where to sit?
Are they told how to behave in the classroom?
How are groups formed when they do practical work?
Are different learners assigned different jobs (like chairperson, scribe, etc.) during practical work?
Do learners alternate the jobs?
Do learners have a say in what is happening in class?
Do learners do investigations? Could they elaborate on at least one, please?
Where do learners find the answers for investigations? From textbooks? From doing the investigation
themselves? Form doing the investigation, but getting the answer from the teacher?
What information is given to learners when they carry out investigations?
Are investigations followed by class discussions?
Are investigations done on totally new work, or to emphasize practically something that they have
learned about in class?
In doing investigations must learners explain the meaning of statements, diagrams and/or graphs?
May learners give their own opinions during discussions?
Are learners scared of being laughed at or mocked if they give the wrong answer or are they
encouraged to try and make mistakes rather than always be correct or to keep silent?
Learners are encouraged to ask questions?
Learners are encouraged to say if they don’t understand something?
Are ideas or suggestions of learners used during class discussions?
Are learners required to do homework on the blackboard?
Are learners given a chance of participating in assessment, through self-, or peer assessment?
Are learners doing science on standard grade and on higher grade in the same class?
Does the teacher give them different work?
Do learners use different text books, equipment and/or materials? Or is everyone doing the same
work at the same time?
Are faster learners allowed to move on to the next topic? Or are faster learners given extra work on
the same topic? Or are faster learners asked to explain the work to the slower learners?
In explaining the work, does the teacher use the same teaching aid for all learners?
Are learners encouraged to work hard?
How does the teacher encourage his learners to work hard?
Are learners given little incentives for hard work?
Is the teacher very strict? What does the teacher do to give the impression of being strict?
Does the teacher have a sense of humor?
Is the teacher sarcastic or say things (sometimes) that cut right through you?
Does the teacher manage his class well?
What happens if you are found mucking about? Or doing the homework of another subject in this
teacher’s class?
What happens if the learners do not do homework?
Does the teacher explain the work well? What make the learners say so?
Does the teacher make use of everyday examples in explaining work?
Do the learners gain a better understanding that science plays a role in the world outside the school?
Do the learners realize that science is a developing subject and has a history?
Are learners allowed to express their opinion / ask questions / complain?
Are learners given a scope – to help them plan what to learn?
Does the teacher give an indication of time available to be spent on activities?
Are there any incentives to teach learners how to assess themselves and their peers?
Do learners have a chance to develop communication skills?
Are learners encouraged to take part in science competitions?
Do they themselves hear about such competitions or does the teacher encourage their participation?
Are they encouraged to go on excursions to SciFest, the open day at the Universities, science
exhibitions, etc?
Are learners encouraged to bring community projects to the classroom and discuss participation
Faculty of Education
Science, mathematics and
Technology Education
Groenkloof campus, Pretoria 0002,
Republic of South Africa
Tel: (012) 420-5572 / (012) 420-5621
20 August 2006
The Principal
…………….Secondary School
Dear Sir
I hereby request permission to conduct research in your school. This research, part of
my master’s study at the University of Pretoria, revolves around science teaching of a
high performing teacher in an under resourced school. In order to complete my
research I need to visit your school on a regular basis over the next few weeks. I need
information on a teacher teaching science in a large under resourced science class.
Mrs. ……………. has gracefully agreed to assist me in this regard.
In order to gain information the following will have to be done:
A questionnaire to be completed by the principal.
A questionnaire to be completed by the teacher.
An interview conducted with the teacher to clarify information from the
Observations (10) of the teacher in class. Together with the teacher an observation
schedule will be compiled.
Occasional pre- and post observation interviews with the teacher.
A questionnaire on the resources at the school (especially concerning science) - to be
completed by the head of the science department.
An interview with a group of learners (10) who are taught by the teacher. The
interview protocol (questions) will be provided.
Informal discussions with you, your staff and someone from the community.
I undertake to maintain confidentiality and that neither the school nor the teacher or
any one involved in my research will be identified, and, will be free to withdraw at
any time.
In line with departmental regulations letters of consent will be sent to the parents of
the sampled learners (10).
I will appreciate your assistance in this regard.
Yours sincerely,
E. S. Randall
Appendix I:
Groenkloof Campus, Pretoria 0002
Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27 12 420-5685
Fax: +27 12 420-5621
12 September 2006
Dear Parent / Guardian
Your child has been selected as part of a group of learners with whom I wish to hold
an interview. The interview is necessary for completing my master’s study at the
University of Pretoria. My research revolves around science teaching of a high
performing teacher in school that fits the profile of my research.
The purpose of the interview will be to gain information from the learners on how
they perceive their science teaching.
I undertake to maintain confidentiality and that neither the name of your child, nor the
name of the school or the teacher or any one involved in my research will be
identifiable. Your child will be free to withdraw at any time.
I will appreciate your permission to allow your child to be part of the group of
learners who will be interviewed.
Yours sincerely,
E. S. Randall
Please sign below as a token of your agreement that your child may be part of the
I, _______________________________________________ (parent / guardian), of
_______________________________________ (name of learner), hereby give my
consent that my child may be part of a group of learners that will be interviewed by
Mrs. E. S. Randall (ID.: 5511160006087).
(ID. Number)
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