Semi Structured Individual Interviews Education Essay

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Based on the results of the three open-ended focus group interviews as well as the results of the semi-structured individual interviews in Chapter 6 that Grade R teachers are knowledgeable about the implementation of Grade R. This finding is consistent with the Baseline Study Report (South Africa. ECDoE, (2008a) which states the following:

The research shows that the practitioners know what their roles and responsibilities are (p. 90).

However, this research study has also found that there are inconsistencies between what the teachers say, believe, and what they implement in their classrooms. According to the Baseline Study Report (South Africa. ECDoE, (2008a) one of the reasons why Grade R teachers and practitioners do not implement their knowledge in their classrooms is due to the fact that the Education District Offices in the Eastern Cape, do not fulfil their role of support and monitoring of these classes.

The lack of support and monitorin from the schools; the lack of knowledge in the schools as to the purpose of the Reception Year; the lack of implementation of the NCS by all parties in the school and the lack of regular support and monitoring by the circuit managers and district ECD personnel hampers them in performin their competence (p. 90).

The Report of Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (South Africa. DoE, 2009) emphasises that, despite the limited knowledge and skills of district personell, especially subject advisors, the implementation of the NCS (South Africa. DoE, 2002b) lies on their shoulders as they act as "intermediaries between curriculum policy and implementation in the classroom" (p. 8).

These offices have been subject to the same degree of change as teachers, and in many cases, a superficial understanding around curriculum exists. Further, in several provinces there are a large number of recently appointed subject advisors, who have received less training on the curriculum than the teachers themselves, and have not had the experiences of actually teaching the curriculum (South Africa. DoE, 2009, p. 23).

These findings, by both the Baseline Study Report (South Africa. ECDoE, (2008a) as well as the Report of the Task Team for the Review (South Africa. DoE, 2009) have serious implications for the implementation of numeracy in the practice or Grade R classrooms.

The question therefore must be asked, is above-mentioned statement by the Baseline Study Report (South Africa. ECDoE, (2008a) whereby teachers do not have sufficient and quality effective support and monitoring, the only reason why teachers do not implement what they have been taught?

This study however showed that the above-mentioned reason is not the only reason why Grade R teachers are not implementing numeracy effectively. The reasons are more complex and nuanced as Chapter 6 showed. There is a clear disjuncture between theory and practice, as reflected in the data analysis of the individual interviews and their audio-video tapes of classrooms activities.

7.2 Implications for Theory and Practice

Chapter 2 which focussed on the historical and political context of Early Childhood Development in South Africa revealed that Grade R teachers came from different backgrounds with different training experiences. This impacted on their implementation of numeracy. Chapter 3 has described in depth the curriculum policy development and implementation teachers had to implement since 1998. Again, teachers' practice as then, had to make major paradigm shifts in implementing numeracy in their classrooms. With the proposed introduction of, yet another curriculum change, the CAPS (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) in 2011, Foundation Phase teachers, including Grade R teachers and practitioners, need to make another mind shift regarding the implementation of numeracy in their classrooms. However, the Report of the Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (South Africa. DoE, 2009) warns that if teachers do not have a clear understanding of curriculum policy and how curriculum implementation should take place, it cannot then be expected of teachers to implement such a curriculum. It must however, be recognised that the abundance of change has left many teachers bewildered.

Our recent curriculum history has been characterized by radical change within a relative short period. The result has been a high level of confusion amongst teachers around what they are expected to do. These past changes have left tracks in teachers' current understandings and practice, particularly tracks of Curriculum 2005 (South Africa. DoE, 2009, p. 24).

Chapter 4 attempts to clarify how four learning theories, and especially constructivism, relate to the implementation of numeracy in Grade R. The importance of learning through play, which includes exploration, experimenting, discovery, making choices and problem-solving was highlighted by Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner. However, the transcriptions of the audio-video tapes in Chapter 6, reveal that many teachers are not using these valuable teaching strategies. This finding is echoed by the Baseline Study Report (South Africa. ECDoE, (2008a) which states as follow:

The majority of classrooms did not demonstrate learning occurring through active exploration of the environment. Children were either playing by themselves (without structured play materials), sitting waiting quietly, or being 'taught' Grade 1 work in the traditional way (chanting'sa se si so so' over and over again) (p. 89).

Jones (2005) argues that when teachers do interact with learners' play activities, they often dominate this activity in order to maintain discipline and control (p. 201). In Chapter 1, Sheffield and Cruikshank (2000) advise that teachers need to interact and channel the play activities of learners on the one hand whilst on the other hand, they must be careful not to dominate and control the play activities. Sheffield and Cruikshank (2000) make it very explicit that "…activities cannot by themselves teach. Augment them with reading, writing, discussion, examples, and thought" (p. 356).

However, unless Grade R teachers and the Senior Management Teams at primary schools, are buying into the principle of learning through "play with a purpose" when the CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) is implemented in 2011, it will merely be paying lip-service to this principle (p.6).

In view of the concerns expressed by the findings of the systemic evaluations of 2001 and 2008, as expressed in Chapters 1 and 2, the danger might arise that teachers would rather focus on achieving the three Rs (formal reading, writing and arithmetic activities) than exposing learners to activities where they freely explore, experiment and discover their environment. According to Jones (2005) it was found that teachers would rather spend their time teaching numeracy and learning than allowing learners to engage with play activities (p. 202). Jones (2005) argues that one of the reasons why teachers rather focussed on implementing a formal and direct teaching approach is that the formal approach has measurable results whilst the results of free-play cannot easily and directly be determined (2005, p. 202).

Although the said CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) makes provision for structured and teacher-directed numeracy slots of 30 minutes per day,there is a concern that teachers will over-emphasise the completion of worksheets and therefore ignore the importance of learners experiencing a concept kinaesthetically, concretely and semi-concretely (p. 6). In Chapter 4, Bruner states that knowledge or intellectual development growth starts as an enactive mode and them moves to an iconic mode and subsequently results in a symbolic mode. According to Shunk (2008) the implications of Bruner's theory of cognitive growth are that new learning concepts need to be introduced concretely and three-dimensionally in the enactive mode (pp. 6-7). The draft CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) recommends that worksheets are only to be given to learners after they have experienced a concept kinaesthetically, concretely and semi-concretely (pp. 6-7).

In Chapter 1, researchers such as Grouws and Good (1989), Sawyer (1995), and Faber and Van Staden (1997) express their concern regarding the use of worksheets. Grouws and Good (1989) point out that good problem-solving activities in text books are scarce and if they do occur, the problem solving is based on a section of the "textbook that deals with verbal problems" and require only from the learner "to select a computational operation" (p. 60). Grouws and Good (1989) advocate that enough time must be granted to learners to discuss problems with one another and to describe their own attempt at solving a problem. Faber and Van Staden (1997) argue that commercially bought learning materials often do not take cognisance of the young learner's prior experience of mathematical concepts, knowledge, skills and attitudes and "tend to reduce autonomy: teachers decide on the problems, how many are to be tackled and when, and whether the answers are right or wrong" (p. 109). Sawyer (1995) adds that the over-reliance on workbooks to teaching mathematics is a reflection of teachers' insecurities with the content (Sawyer, 1995, p. 141). In order to counteract teachers' lack of confidence in teaching mathematics, Sawyer (1995) stresses the importance of rendering effective in-service training and continuing support, "so that their knowledge and understanding base and their confidence in teaching mathematics can be approved" (p. 203). Sawyer (1995) points out that the feelings and concerns of teachers regarding "unfamiliar content, new teaching and assessment strategies, the amount of required paperwork and record keeping, and increasing pressures and resultant stress" cannot be ignore (p. vii).

In the research study, Participant 15 agrees that work sheets are not stimulating"

It is not stimulating, no. Yes. Every day, they must do different, you see today, they didn't change. I like to do it like that. Tomorrow they will be busy with that activity, I will just change them. I change them, the learners. Yes.

Participant 1 has acknowledged that the use of worksheets can contribute to barriers to learning:

There is a lot of paperwork which can become a barrier, instead of teaching the teacher and learner are too involved with paperwork.

A third concern that has come from the analysis from the data transcriptions of the individual interviews as well as the analysis from the data transcriptions of the audio-video tapes is the cry by seven of the nine participants in this research study for further training on how to address barriers with learning in their classes. Although the findings of the Systemic Evaluations of both 2001 and 2008 suggest that there is a crisis if two thirds of Grade 3 learners are not numerate, the proposed CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) makes no mention of how to address numeracy barriers to learning in Grade R classrooms. There is thus a serious gap in the implementation of the current milestones as stipulated in the Foundation for Learning Assessment Framework Grade R (South Africa. DoBE, 2010a) as well as the proposed CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) in how to go about in assisting a young learner who is experiences numeracy barriers to learning. In both the pre-service as well as the in-service training of Grade R teachers, there needs to be a greater emphasis on barriers to learning and remedial intervention.

In Chapter 1, Kirov and Bhargava (2002) emphasise that the informality of high-quality learning in the preschool years does not mean that there is no need to plan for attentive mathematics activities. Contrarily, mathematics learning should focus on opportunities that will stimulate active learning that will enhance the use of rich mathematical language like "what?" "how?" and "why?" questions (Kirov & Bhargava, 2002). Golbeck (2002) argues that if teachers plan numeracy activities that are developmentally appropriate, such a teacher will then have clarity not only on the content that needs to be taught, but also regarding her role in how to teach the content. In Chapter 4, Branscombe, et al. (2002) express their concerns regarding a pre-designed curriculum which is rigidly implemented according to prescribed steps:

the assumption is that the goal is to internalise a body of information in a particular order and often in a particular form. Teachers who use this approach are likely to believe that the learning is a process of taking something from the environment and memorizing it rather than constructing it based on the individual's own actions and interactions (p. 15).

However, despite the concern raised above by Branscrombe, et al. (2002), the proposed CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) prescribes the Grade R teachers with a structured week by week programme of how numeracy concepts should progressively be taught (pp.2-118).

However, a fourth concern is that the proposed CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f) does not take into consideration the prior numeracy knowledge and skills that a Grade R learner brings to school. The first number symbol that is being introduced to a Grade R learner during the third week of schooling, is 0 or naught, whereafter the numbers are increased to 10 by the end of the year (South Africa. DoBE, 2010f, pp.2-118). The NCS (South Africa. DoE, 2003b) states that

The Grade R or 1 learners come to school with varied experiences of number work and number knowledge. Some can rote count whilst others only know a rhyme or two. Learners can usually show their age by putting up the correct number of fingers, but they often have no real number sense. Some learners will be able to work with money and even give change to a certain extent, but they can't do formal calculatins involving money problems. Most young learners can share food fairly without having a concept of fractions. Differentiated learning activities should therefore be created to accommodate all the learners in the class (p. 60).

In Chapter 1, researchers such as Schwartz & Riedesel (1994), Campbell (1997), Chambers (2000) and Sheffield and Cruikshank (2000), urge educators to build on learners' existing numeracy knowledge.

You are challenged to build on what children bring to the classroom and provide activities that help children further grow and develop their mathematical thinking and their understanding of the concepts of addition and subtraction (Sheffield and Cruikshank, 2000, p. 154).

According to Clements and Battista (2002) "learning mathematics should be thought of as a process of adapting to and organizing one's quantitative world, not discovering pre-existing ideas imposed by others" (p. 6). Therefore, a variety of opportunities must be provided to young learners in order for them to explore their surroundings and environments. In this exploration of the environment the learner will use his/her current knowledge to relate new information to that knowledge (Branscombe, et al., 2002, p. 10).

In summary, it can be concluded that the reason why Grade R teachers are not implementing a developmentally appropriate, learner-centred and learner-based numeracy programme in their classrooms, cannot be contributed only to the lack of support and monitoring by district officials. A second reason why teachers do not implement their knowledge and skills of Grade R, is that they are overwhelmed with all the curriculum changes of the past twelve years as Chapters 2 and 3 of this study described. A third and perhaps the most important reason why Grade R teachers do not implement their knowledge is in answer to the sub-research questions, namely:

What are the experiences of selected teacers in implementing numeracy in Grade R?

What are the challenges that face Grade R teachers when they implement numeracy? and

How do Grade R teachers' experiences regarding numeracy influence and affect their teaching and assessment strategies in numeracy?

Despite the fact that the selected Grade R teachers and practitioners in this case study believe themselves to be knowledgeable and skilled regarding numeracy in Grade R and therefore, perceive themselves to implement numeracy effectively in their classrooms, the findings of the data analysis reveal that many of the selected teachers do not have enough knowledge and skills in how to implement numeracy in their classrooms (See paragraph 6.4).

The implication of the findings of this research study for the practice or implementation of numeracy in the Grade R classroom is, that unless Grade R teachers receive extensive training regarding the following challenges and needs which were identified in this research study, Grade R learners will still lack the necessary knowledge and skills on which their numeracy and mathematical foundation in latter years are to be build:

how to address barriers to learning;

how to implement numeracy concepts in practical, hands-on activities;

how to provide Grade R learners with a variety of educational toys and equipment in and outside the classroom;

how to provide Gr R learners with an abundance of free-choice and free-play activities where numeracy concepts can be experienced, explored and discovered;

how to plan, organise and manage classroom activities that will enhance numeracy development by young learners;

how to provide a classroom which includes the principles of the four learning theories, as identified in Chapter 4;

how the teacher can provide a learning environment that is learner-centred and learner-paced;

how to go beyond the minimum requirements of the milestones;

how to ask open-ended questions which made an appeal to learners' creative, thinking, reasoning and problem-solving skills;

how to plan and implement developmentally appropriate practices;

how to provide opportunities for learning through play;

how to enhance learners' problem-solving and thinking skills.

7.3 Strenghts and Limitations of this Study

The strength of this study lies in my use of multiple data collection instruments (three open-ended focus group interviews, nine semi-structured individual interviews and nine audio-video tapes of the daily programme in Grade R classrooms) in order to combine different methods or "ways of looking" to obtain an in-depth understanding of what the experiences and perspectives of Grade R teachers are in implementing numeracy in their classrooms (Silverman, 2000, p. 177). According to Denzin and Lincoln (2003) the use of multiple data collection instruments or triangulation, which "is the display of multiple, refracted realities simultaneously" can be regarded as an alternative to validation (p. 8).

This study is further strengthened by its internal validity. Internal validity refers to the extent

to which the interpretations and concepts have mutual meaning between the participants and the researcher. The researcher and participants agree on the description or composition of events, especially the meanings of these events (McMillan & Schumacher, 2001, p. 407).

The interview framework, which was compiled by the participants regarding their understanding, perspectives, experiences and beliefs about themes prohibited me from interfering or manipulating the participants' understanding of the phenomenon. By following the interview framework during the individual interviews, researcher biasness was limited and objectivity enhanced in this study. It must be noted that total objectivity in a qualitative interpretive research paradigm is not possible. Stake (1988) emphasises that "Subjectivity is not seen as a failing needing to be eliminated but as an essential element of understanding" (p. 45). As the researcher, I was subjectively involved when I selected the participants for the focus group and individual interviews. My subjectivity is also evident when I compared the transcripts of the daily activities with the transcription of the participant's individual interview.

This research study is also strenghtened by its credibility. Credibility, in preference to the term "internal validity" can be obtained in this research design by means of triangulation (Shenton, 2004, p. 64). It entailed that the same methodological data collection methods of interviews (for both focus group and individual interviews) were used and thereby resulting in its strength (Shenton, 2004, p. 65). Multi-method strategies such as focus group interviews, individual interviews and audio-video taping of activities assisted in obtaining different insights regarding the phenomena. The semi-structured individual interviews revealed thick descriptions to reflect a true and honest picture of the phenomenon which was under scrutiny, whilst the audio-video tapes reflected the phenomena in a specific context chronologically. Credibility was enhanced when the transcripts of the focus group interview in which the teachers and practitioners participated were given to the semi-structured individual interviewees to rephrased and probed to ensure "that their words match what they actually intended" (Shelton, 2004, p. 68).

Reliability in the data collection and analysis of this research study, was obtained by ensuring that I captured through the audio-video tapes the "context- and situation-specificity" of each classroom (Cohen, et al., 2002, p. 120). They are of the opinion that

Audio-visual data collection has the capacity for completeness of analysis and comprehensiveness of material, reducing both the dependence on prior interpretations by the researcher and the possibility again of only recording events which happen frequently" (Cohen, et al., 2002, p. 313).

By comparing the audio-video tape transcriptions with the interview transcriptions an honest and comprehensive picture was obtained in how Grade R teachers implement numeracy in their classrooms.

In order to avoid violating participants' privacy and reducing them to mere research objects, I adhered to the following ethical considerations:

I obtained written permission from the Eastern Cape Department of Education to conduct this research study in the Grahamstown Education District.

I met with all participants of focus group and individual interviews and explained the aim of the research study as well as the method of data collection and analysis. I guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity by undertaking not to identify them in transcripts of the interviews but merely to refer to them as participant 1, participant 2 etcetera. I undertook to protect their privacy by granting access to audio-video recordings of interviews and classroom activities only to myself and my study promoter. I informed them of their right to end their participation at any time if they felt uncomfortable with the research proceedings.

All participants signed an Informed Consent whereby they acknowledged that they understood their role and involvement in the data collection and analysis procedures. They also confirmed that aforementioned ethical issues were discussed with them.

Letters requesting permission to audio-video tape their children in the daily programme activities were given to parents and the signed informed consents of parents in this regard were collected (Stake, 1988, p. 57),

However, the biggest strength of this research study is the fact that Grade R teachers and practitioners were given an opportunity to have their voices heard regarding their beliefs, perceptions, knowledge and skills when they implement numeracy in their classrooms.

Despite the above-mentioned actions, limitations of this research study can be found in the audio-videotaping of the daily programme in nine Grade R classrooms. Although I used the themes of the Interview Framework to guide me when I audio-video taped the daily programme activities, data collection errors might have materialized, as my subjectivity and personal perspectives could have clouded my role as a participant-observer and thereby question the validity and reliability of the observations. Cohen, et al. (2000) emphasise the fact that qualitative collective case studies have a personal perspective in the interpretation by the researcher, as the researcher cannot be divorced from the participants she is studying in-depth. Reliability of the observations is also enhanced when there are a number of observations, which point to emergent themes or issues. (Cohen, et al., 2000). Although I have tried to minimize the effect of my intrusion into the natural setting of a Grade R teacher and her learners it still had an impact (Cohen et al., 2000). In this research study, the visibility of the audio-visual recording camera (even if it was set up in such a way that I tried not to draw attention to it), might have a reactivity impact on the learners. I was unknown and a stranger to them and therefore they could have acted differently from the way they normally do in the class and school setting, when I and my audio-video recording camera are absent.

External validity limits this case study because the sampling was a non-probability convenience and purposeful, criterion case sampling. Further, the research study is embedded in a naturalistic interpretive paradigm research design, which is not intended to be representative and generalisable to the wider Grade R population. In using convenience and purposeful case sampling I selected participants "in the full knowledge that it does not represent the wide population; it simply represents itself" (Cohen, et al., 2001, p. 102). Maykut and Morehouse (1994) agree that the focus "is not the generalization of results, but a deeper understanding of experience from the perspectives of the participants selected for study" (p. 44).

External validity refers to the extent to which results may be generalisable (transferable) across either contexts or populations. It is not expected that the results of a study of this nature will be generalisable across populations, but it is hoped that the results may indicate certain principles that could be generalisable across contexts. In this study, the point of generalisability is not whether the experiences of the teachers in the study could be expected to be the same for other settings. Rather, generalisability refers to possible broad themes that may become possible given a certain education setting and context.

A further limitation refers to the fact that resources and references prior 1995 were not easily available. The curriculum resources from the Transvaal Department of Education, the Department of Education and Training and the Natal Department of Education are not properly referenced as I was able to collect photostat copies of such resources from an ex-TED pre-primary school, a township school which hosted a Grade R class as well as the hand-outs from the Natal Department of Education from a previously subject advisor for pre-primary schools. These resources were distributed directly to the schools from the different Education Departments. Therefore, no publisher and sometimes, no dates are available on these references and resources.

Another limitation of this study points to the status of the current NCS curriculum. It is in transit and not clear enough directions and publications regarding the requisites of the CAPS, have come through. The curriculum requirements of the CAPS for the Foundation Phase (South Africa. DoBE, 2010e) is at this stage only a draft document.

The possible broad themes or findings that came to light when the data was analyzed can be used, not only to enhance Grade R teachers' understanding, knowledge and skills when they implement numeracy, but also to open up future research spaces regarding numeracy.

7.4 Implications for Further Research

Due to the fact that major curriculum changes are currently being made in order to implement the CAPS (South Africa. DoBE, 2010e) in 2011, it would be important to repeat this research study and to investigate whether the new and/or adapted curriculum is implemented in such a way that it is learner-centred, developmentally appropriate and taking the holistic development of the learner into cognisance. As stressed in above-mentioned paragraph 7.2, the numeracy ability of Grade R learners will onbly be enhanced if Grade R teachers receive extensive training regarding the challenges and needs which were identified in this research study,

Another focus for further research is to investigate what are the Grade R teacher's knowledge and skills to address numeracy barriers to learning.

In this research study, I did not include any investigation regarding the role language plays in mastering numeracy concepts in Grade R. Although a mother tongue or home language approach was preferred in the NCS for Grade R, the Report of the Task Team for the Review of the Implementation of the National Curriculum Statement (South Africa. DoBe, 2009) advises that both the Home Language and the First Additional Language, preferably English, are given a high priority and thus allocated 6 and 5 hours per week teaching time in this regard (p. 43). Some Grade R learners are being taught in either the First or Second Additional Languages and not their Home Language. It is therefore strongly advised that further research should be done on the role of language plays in acquiring numeracy knowledge and skills.

7.5 Final Word

I undertook this study, not only to find possible answers for the underperformance of numeracy in Grade 3, but also to try and understand what Grade R teachers and practitioners are experiencing every day. As a subject advisor, it is important for me to know the experiences of Grade R teachers and practitioners before I can assist and support them. However, this research study has not only broadened my research knowledge and skills, but it has enriched me as a person. I was inspired by the Grade R teachers and practitioners, who go about with their everyday teaching with love, passion, dedication and commitment to young learers, despite various challenges. This research study was a very humble experience.