Mar 022012

Chew Lee Teo defended her PhD thesis on January 16th 2012. She flew all the way from Singapore and did a great job! The title of her thesis is: “CONCEPTUAL SHIFTS WITHIN PROBLEM SPACES AS A FUNCTION OF YEARS OF KNOWLEDGE BUILDING EXPERIENCE”.
Dr. Teo


This thesis explores teaching practice as a function of years of experience with Knowledge Building pedagogy, emphasizing teachers’ continual improvement of practice while they foster continual improvement of students’ ideas. Knowledge Building practice places students’ ideas at the centre of the classroom enterprise, with the principal challenge being enabling students to take effective responsibility for improvement of ideas.

Building on a variety of models of teacher thinking and development, a problem space model is developed specifically geared to the development of Knowledge Building practices. This model is used to guide the investigation and provide a theoretically- and empirically-based description of shifts teachers undergo as they gain skill in Knowledge Building pedagogy. The model also serves to convey how Knowledge Building teachers differ from other skillful teachers. The principal shift is from a centrist to relational (or systemic) perspective. This perspectival shift is examined in five problem spaces: Curriculum/Standards, Social Interaction, Student Capability, Classroom Structures and Constraints, and Technology. Underlying the centrist perspective is a belief in established procedures and goals typically understood to characterize effective teaching. Underlying the relational perspective is a belief in the capacity of students to develop and improve their own ideas, and a belief that in doing so students will not only mature as knowledge-builders, but will also excel in the achievement of traditional knowledge goals.

The research uses multiple data sources (teacher meetings, journals, interviews and classroom observations) to analyze the work of 13 teachers over a full school year, with three embedded case studies. Results show that Knowledge Building teachers construct and explore the same problem spaces as other teachers. What distinguishes them, and places them on a different trajectory, is the relational approach that brings ideas to the centre in each problem space. The work of teachers with different levels of experience is analyzed to characterize the centrist to relational shift, which corresponds to three embedded shifts (a) surface to deep interpretation of problem and processing of information, (b) routine to adaptive approach to classroom activities and student engagement, and (c) procedure-based to principle-based reflective action.