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Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



1








TITLE OF PAPER


Model of a school
-
based pedagogical research lab:
Pedagogical Research Lab

Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary)

RGS PeRL




Name of Author
: Mary George Cheriyan


Name of Institution
: Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary)



E
-
mail Address
: mary.cheriyan@rgs.edu.sg


























Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



2




SYNOPSIS


Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) Pedagogical Research Lab (RGS PeRL) aims to
foster a culture of informed practice within the school, asking fundamental questions
about what works in the class
room and why. In a culture that prizes academic
achievement, such evidence is critical to its stakeholders.

RGS PeRL

provides a
platform for the publication and presentation of teachers’ research
-
related work.
Believing in the value of an indigenized para
digm towards educational research,
it

aims to provide a localized context to educational research which may reveal
different findings from that conducted in other countries but are yet, applied widely in
our schools. It actively seeks collaborative researc
h opportunities with other
educational institutions.



BACKGROUND


The setting up of the RGS PeRL
evolves from certain
strategic development
s in the
school.
I will focus on 2 key areas of strategic change:


1.

Independent School status


In 1987, the governmen
t introduced the independent schools scheme by which
selected schools were given autonomy in areas like school fees, student admission
and staff recruitment. The assumption was that the decentralisation of educational
management gives greater flexibility t
o schools to introduce innovative practices
which were more appropriate for their unique contexts, unfettered by the Ministry’s
regulations. (J Tan,
1992,
p150).


As a school that caters to the top 1
-
3% of the student cohort, RGS has consistently
emphasize
d the harnessing of a repertoire of strategies that not only deepen
s

understanding but also strengthens the
pupils
’ capacity for sound thinking. When it
became an independent school in 1991, th
e

impetus to provide a stimulating and
innovative curriculum, w
as further sharpened.


2.

The Raffles Programme (2004)


The momentum for curriculum innovation and review was further enhanced
with the
implementation of the Raffles Programme (RP) in 2004.

RGS, together with Raffles
Institution (now referred to as RI Year 3
-
4) and Raffles Junior College (now referred
to as RI Year 5
-
6), embarked on
a
6
-
year through
-
train programme in which the girls
from RGS and the boys from RI ( Year3
-
4) proceed seamlessly to RI (Year 5
-
6)
,

by
-
passing the ‘O’ level examinations. The

ration
ale for the RP was that
data

has
consistently s
hown that both RI and RGS students were university bound anyway as
the pupils were admitted to these schools with high PSLE scores in the first place.
The change was therefore, a dynamic response to the need t
o optimise the potential


Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



3


of these high
ly
able pupils through the provision of a curriculum that truly stretched
their abilities and provided them with the opportunity to explore their unique
strengths.


The above 2 developments have contributed
not only
t
o a culture of pedagogical
innovation
, but also of
constant review of the effectiveness of the programmes in
optimising the potential of the pupils.



Some of the strategies and approaches that have been
systematically
implemented
school
-
wide wide

are:



Th
e
Understanding by Design (Wiggins and M
cTi
ghe
,1998)

frame
w
o
r
k for curriculum
and unit design



Elements of Reasoning ((Richard Paul
, 2002)

for Critical Thinking



Socratic Questioning



Concept Development Model

(Hilda Taba, 1996)




Integrated Curriculum Model (
Van
-
T
assel
B
aska, 1
9
86) for

curriculum development



Performance Task (Alberta Assessment Consortium) as

a
n alternative
assessment
model


The setting up of RGS PeRL has to be viewed within this culture of innovation and
review. Through pedagogical research,

RGS PeRL

seeks to examine the
effectiveness of curriculum practices for the purpose of review, improvement and
innovation.
Such scrutiny of the curriculum and assessments is particularly essential
within the Singapore context that places high premium on e
xam achievements. With
the absence of the ‘O’ level examinations in the Integrated Programme, there is no
visible manifestation of the outstanding achievements of the RGS pupils in terms of
exam performance. It is hoped that ev
idence
-
based pedagogy and ass
essment
will
address this gap and
lend weight to the school’s legacy and visibility as a reputed
school for the education of highly able pupils.


RGS PeRL also hopes to support the school’s plans for accreditation as
an
internationally recognized institut
ion for the education of gifted and talented females
,
by providing evidence of reflective practice and evidence
-
based curriculum.


In short,
RGSPeRL plays a role in projecting the school as a hub for educational
research
,

leverag
ing

on the school’s culture

of curriculum review and innovation to
confidently examine curriculum practices and seek innovative approaches to
teaching and learning.












Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



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STATEMENT OF PURPOSE


RGS PeRL
’s
purpose is reflected in its vision, mission and goals:


Vision
: To establ
ish RGS as a reputed centre focused on research and pedagogy
for the education of high ability females.


Mission:
To cultivate a culture of informed practice that promotes student learning
and forms the basis for educational policy in RGS
.


G
oals:

Shor
t
-
Term
: To transform RGS into a self
-
directed educational research lab that
focuses on knowledge creation pertinent to the needs of high ability girls.


Long Term
: To enhance the teaching staff of RGS and other institutions with
powerful pedagogies

that
have a firm research base


Stretch goal
: To be an integral part of the academic & professional discourse on
Gifted Education (especially for teenage Asian girls) both locally and internationally




UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES / THEORETICAL UNDERPINNING


There a
re
4

key principles t
hat

underg
ird

RGS P
e
RL’s work
:


1.

Reflective practice cultivates thoughtful teaching



RGS PeRL conducts and facilitates investigative inquiry into innovative practices in
the school, asking fundamental questions about what teachers are

doing in the
classroom; what works and why. It also facilitates practitioner inquiry in the school by
providing research support and training to the rest of the staff who may wi
s
h to
embark on their own forms of action research.


2.

Reflective practice tran
slates into ‘enhanced teacher efficacy
:
’ (Stronge,
2002
)



School
-
based research is a potent strategy for professional development
i

because it
is a learning process
ii

which is systematic and collaborative within the context of the
classroom and school envir
onment.

Such reflective practices enhance teacher
efficacy and professionalism in terms of pedagogical decisions and practices in the
classroom (Stronge,

2002).
To further augment professional development, RGS
PeRL seeks out external platforms such as nota
ble journals and conferences to
publish and present teachers’ research
-
related work.


3.

An
indigenized paradigm

in educational research generates home
-
grown
improvements to educational practices



Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



5




While scientific information on how the human brain works may

be universally
applied in teaching and learning, the context in which one learns surely influences
ones’ actual learning experiences and attitudes. For instance, the Asian emphasis on
academic and scholastic achievements has an impact on the behavioural p
atterns
and expectations in the classroom and students in Asian schools tend to be more
guarded in the inquiry process compared to their Western peers. Yet, Western
models and research findings are applied widely in our schools
.
RGS

PeRL
therefore, aims to

provide a localized context to educational research which may
reveal different findings from that conducted in other countries.


It particularly seeks to address the gap in the research literature on the pedagogy for
highly able Asian girls. While Wester
n models and principles of Gifted Education
have been well adapted to the school, there is a need to review their effectiveness
within the realities of our cultural context.


4.

There are multiple pathways for career
p
rogression


As a school positioned at th
e frontline of educational trailblazing, it is also important
for RGS to create more career options and progression pathways for the staff so as
to attract and retain talent in gifted education. In line with this, RGS

PeRL teacher
-
researchers are placed on

the
s
pecialist track, an alternative to the teaching and
leadership tracks. They conduct school
-
wide research independently, with teachers
in RGS or even with external research partners.


As schools seek to
pupils

with 21
st

century competencies, the inqui
ring,
metacognitive teacher is vital to the process. Not only does the teacher cultivate
habits of critical and innovative thinking in the students
, t
he teacher needs
also
to
model it as well.



DESCRIPTION OF APPROACH AND PROCESSES INVOLVED


RGS PeRL cons
ists of the following domains: Research, Presentations and
Publications and Consultancy.


Research


The research work done by RGS PeRL falls into 2 categories.


a.

School
-
wide

: Such research is driven by the RGS

PeRL Specialist Teachers to shed
light on t
he effectiveness of schoolwide curriculum practices. Currently, RGS

PeRL
is conducting research on the value of the Performance Task as an alternative
assessment mode in RGS. The research utilizes a concurrent mixed method design
with
an

overarching resear
ch question. This multi
-
strand research design provides a
broad base scan of the impact of Performance Tasks on teachers’ practices,


Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



6


students’ learning and their perceptions by using both quantitative and qualitative
data collected to answer the specific r
esearch questions.


b.

Department and group
-
based
: This research is conceived by departments and
groups that may embark on innovative pedagogy and approaches. RGS

PeRL
supports them by guiding them in the crafting of research questions and
methodology, provi
ding resources such as software and the support of the Research
Assistant and offering them a platform to present and/publish their research work.
Currently, RGS PeRL is supporting a research on the factors that influence students’
buy
-
in of 1 to 1 laptop
learning in an Apple
-
funded project which is piloted in 3
classes.


Consultancy


RGS PeRL also conducts consultancy for other educational institutions, aiming to
share its research findings as well as some of the school’s curricular best practices,
focusin
g on a localized context to the notion of effective pedagogy. Its strategy is to
provide post
-
training consultancy to enable workshop participants to translate the
theory to practice so that they learn by doing.



This year,
RGS PeRL conducted workshops on

the design of the Performance Task
as an alternative assessment mode.

The presenter highlighted the theories and
principles of the Performance Task, placing them within

the

local context and sharing
our own triumphs and challenges in designing and impleme
nting such an
assessment mode.
The feedback from workshop participants was extremely positive.
Ma
ny of them

cited
the grounding of the principles on
a
ctual

classroom experience
and practicalities of our local context
as a valuable aspect of the workshop.



RGS PeRL will continue to conduct workshops on the Design of the Performance
Task, anchoring
them

further with the research findings as they emerge.


Presentations and Publications


RGS

PeRL selects possible platforms for teachers to present and /or pub
lish
research
-
related work done in RGS. The Lab is also keen on joint publications and
presentations with other members in the educational fraternity to benefit from the
synergy of collaborative discourse as well as to raise the visibility of Asian
educati
onal research.
In 2010, about 8 research
-
related papers have been
presented at conferences.


Partnerships


In order to benefit from synergistic wisdom and expertise, projects conducted and
facilitated by RGS PeRL are done in collaboration with external pa
rtners; namely, the
National Institute of Education (Singapore)
. In April 2010,
a
Letter of Intent was


Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



7


signed between RGS and C
enter for Research in Pedagogy and Practice (CRPP)
w
hich inked the research partnership arrangement between RGS PeRL and CRPP.

Cu
rrently, we are involved in a joint research project on the Performance Task.



The value
-
addedness of
a research partnership with RGS PeRL is th
e practitioner
inquiry paradigm that
the latter
br
ings to
the
research
.
This is because our res
earch
is driven

by questions and gaps that arise from actual classroom practices and its
findings ploughed back into tangible pedagogical outcomes.



PERSONAL REFLECTIONS


On the Approach and Processes involved


St
r
engths


a)

The uniqueness of RGS PeRL lies in its position

as a school
-
based model of a
research lab. Our research agenda is a response to

a

desire to examine the
effectiveness of our pedagogical practices in terms
actual classroom experience. It
gains resonance from

p
ractitioners’ perspectives

of
and

experience
in
the practical
aspects of classroom pedagogy

within the local context.



I experienced th
is

reality when I conducted a workshop on the Design of the
Performance
T
ask as an alternative assessment mode in July this year. The main
feedback given by the wor
kshop participants was that
t
he training was practitioner
-
oriented and embedded within the Singapore school context.

This feedback
strengthens
my conviction that the
Singapore
an

educator needs to unabashedly
embrace the realities of our contex
t
, leveraging

on

its assets such as a high regard
for academic excellence, respect for hard work, the integrity of our assessments and
the willingness to learn and adapt from others.
There is no need to sidestep these
inherent elements in our system.


b)

RGS PeRL is also
open to research collaboration and consultancy with other
educational institutions. We welcome joint research projects and sharing of platforms
for best practices and knowledge generation of what constitutes an effective
classroom. I believe that this open
-
mindedness to collaboration and sharing stands
us in good stead.


c)

Human capital has been a key factor in the significant strides we have made as a
new organisation. As the Director of RGS PeRL, I have had to lead my team of
Specialist Teachers in conce
ptualising the vision and mission of the organisation
and its raison d’etre in a manner that resonated with us. Fortunately, I had just
completed a Masters in Public Administration at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public
Policy. The Programme heightened my u
nderstanding of the principles of
organisational and strategic management as well as Human Resource management
which I have been able to apply to the organisation. I also bring to it my own


Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



8


experience with curriculum design, implementation and review as we
ll as
professional development programmes, as both teacher and leader. The Specialist
Teachers are similarly experienced in pedagogy and curriculum leadership. As a
team, we share a passion for the classroom as well as the value of an Asian
discourse on pe
dagogy especially for the highly
-
able Asian girl.


Challenge


RGS PeRL is a small organisation with huge aspirations. We are still learning the
ropes of research design even while conducting it. Our model as a school
-
based
research lab is a double
-
edged s
word: while it offers a ‘blue ocean strategy’ (Kim
and Mauborgne,2005) of practitioner
-
orientedness in research and consultancy, we
are also embedded within the school structures and activities and so, need to juggle
adroitly these responsibilities with ou
r research agenda.


On Professional and Personal Development


In setting up this Lab, I had to examine deeply my own raison d’etre for such a Lab.


On the one hand, i
t
embodies the vision of the Principal, Mrs Julie Hoo, to transform
the school
i
nto an

educational research hub, reflecting our experience in educational
innovation and init
i
atives. We
acknowledge this as an e
thical obligation to the nation
given the flexibility

as an Independent School since
1992 and then

as an

I
n
tegrated
Programme

school
from 2004
, to embark on innovative practices.


But p
ersonally, as the Director of PeRL, I bring to it my convictions on the value of
the reflective practitioner who constantly examines her practices with the aim of
enhancing th
e

value and magic in every l
esson.
As a teacher, I have experienced
several heady moments in the classroom when my students and I robustly
uncovered insights and questions on issues together. In setting up RGS PeRL, I
have become clearer in my conviction that our students deserve to
be at the forefront
of our pedagogy.
The effectiveness of pedagogy should be evaluated in terms of its
learner
-
centredness and learner empowerment. The learner should be equipped with
the skills of engaging with the content so that she makes meaning of it
in terms of its
relevance and benefits to the world she lives in. In fact, RGS PeRL’s motto is:


Uncovering Wisdom through Pedagogy



I
have also developed an understanding of the notion of indigenous research
,
gaining greater confidence in advocating for
an Asian paradigm in research as well
as in addressing the gaps in the research on the learning needs of the highly able
Asian girl.



Even in the Western context, research has shown that the highly able girl faces
challenges such as identification testing

that favours boys and the tendency of
teachers to take note of the boys in the class rather than the girls. The Asian highly


Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



9


able girl, however, unlike her p
e
e
rs is in an environment that emphasises and values
academic excellence:

How do societal expectat
ions impact her learning targets and career choices?

What kind of classroom works well for her?

What kind of support does she need to optimise her potential?


Currently, there is little research to shed light on these questions. RGS PeRL
unabashedly s
eeks to address this gap.


I

strongly believe that the
Singaporean educator
should
be
less self
-
effacing and
self
-
deprecatory of our educational system. My experience at overseas conferences
has irrevocably convinced me that the Singaporean educator is on
par and often,
ahead of our peers elsewhere. Rather than merely listening to others, we should be
boldly declaring our educational strides with the aim of contributing to a universal
discourse
on meeting the learners’ needs. At the recent Asia
-
Pacific Conf
erence for
the Gifted

held at Sydney

(2010)

it was heartening to see many Singaporean
presenters sharing our practices.


An Asian perspective to educational discourse is overdue.



CONCLUSION


For a new organisation, RGS PeRL has elicited significant inte
rest and support from
external
organisations.
I believe that this reflects a genuine sense of community
amongst educators and a common desire
to engage and empower our students

through evidence
-
based pedagogy
.
The success of this organization

will

be
demo
nstrated in the extent to which its research findings are applied to curriculum
and pedagogical improvement as well as the level of collaboration and network built
with external parties.


The goal is that the pupil
-
the purpose behind our practice
-

should
learn better.



**THE END**






Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



10


REFERENCES / BIBLIOGRAPHY


References

1.

Nguyen, Elliot and Terlouw (2007)

2.

Stronge (2002)

3.

Winser (1996)

4.

Kim & Mauborgne (2005)


Bibliography


Print

1.

Alberta Assessment Consortium,
2003,
How to: Develop and Use Performance
Assess
ments in the Classroom
. AAC, Edmonton
, Canada
.


2.

Baska, VanTassel Joyce. (1994),
Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners,
Allyn and Bacon, USA


3.

Kim, W.Chan and Mauborgne Renee, 2005,
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create
Uncontested Market Space and Make
Competition Irrelevant
, Insead, France


4.

Nguyen, P., Elliott, J.G., Terlouw, C. & Pilot, A. (2009). Neocolonialism in
education:Cooperative learning in an Asian context.
Comparative Education, 45
,
109

130


5.

Siegle, D. and Reis, S. (1998) Gender differences i
n teacher and student

perceptions of gifted students' ability and effort. Gifted Child Quarterly, 42


6.

Stronge H. James, 2002,
Qualities of Effective Teachers,
ASCD, USA


7.

Winser, W. N. (1996). Literacy development and teaching East and West: Cultu
re

and context

text relations.
Hong Kong Journal of Applied Linguistics,

p 19

37.


Non
-
print


1.

Gurian, Anita,
Gif
ted

Girls
-
M
any Gifted Girls, Few Eminent Women
: Why.
NYU Child
Study Centre
, Accessed 2 August 2010

Available in:
http://www.aboutourkids.org/articles/gifted_girls_many_gifted_girls_few_eminent
women, why



2.

Tan, E.T. Jason, (1992)
Independent Schools in Singapore: A Case of
Organisational Decentralisation

of Educational management,
Chinese University of
Hong Kong Education Journal Vol. 20 No. 2 , Accessed 8 August 2010

Available:
http://sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/33/3300520.pdf



Teachers’ Conference 2
010

“Deepening Professional Practice: teachers as learners, teachers as leaders”



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i

i

Nowlan, D. (2001).
Action Research as Teacher Professional Development.

Available at
http://www.ucalgary.ca/uofc/faculties/EDUC/jdnowlan/arfinalpaper.html


ii

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2000). Participatory action research. In N.Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.),
Handbook
of Qualitative Research.

(2nd ed., pp 567
-
605). Thousand Oaks: Sage.