EXPLORING TWO SECONDARY SOCIAL STUDIES TEACHERS' PEDAGOGICAL DECISION MAKING IN CONSTRAINED AND FLEXIBLE CONTEXTS
Meuwissen, Kevin William
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With current trends in K-12 education toward curriculum centralization and high-stakes test-based accountability, teachers are in a position of increasingly adapting their practices to demands that originate beyond the classroom. A synthesis of literature on the relationship between these external influences and secondary social studies teaching suggests that indirect accountability echoes and direct school-institutional pressures reinforce pedagogical practices that are not well aligned with empirical evidence of how adolescents learn, particularly in the well-researched discipline of history. Not surprisingly, variations abound in how teachers filter external controls into the curricular and pedagogical decisions that manifest in the classroom. What follows is an examination of how an early-career and an experienced social studies teacher engage in pedagogical reasoning and activity under two concurrent yet distinct sets of curricular conditions: one in which the external controls of mandated curricula, instructional tools, and summative high-stakes tests are present, and another in which they are not. Two overarching questions are central to this study. First, what patterns of pedagogical reasoning and action manifest in each curricular context? Second, how do the teachers negotiate the various personal and external influences on their pedagogies as they work within and across the two markedly different contexts? I chose an instrumental case study methodology as a means of vicariously representing the experiences of the two participants and generating small-scale theories about factors that impact teachers' mediation of different curricular structures within the current political-institutional context. Via this research, I posit two key arguments: 1) that teachers' epistemic stances and school-political positions are consequential to their ways of reasoning and acting pedagogically amidst the rising tide of test-based accountability; and 2) that teaching within flexible curricular contexts can provide a framework for critiquing the effects of, and tools for adapting to, tightly controlled contexts. Positing a link between the development of teaching expertise and an adaptive, pragmatic approach to pedagogical reasoning and action, this study's findings make a meaningful contribution to current conversations about the roles of social studies teachers as curriculum arbiters and how, why, and to what extent their decisional capital ought to be cultivated.