Summaries nr 4 1997

Summaries nr 4 1997


Jan Bengtsson, 1997: Didactical dimensions. Possibilities and limits of an integrated didactics/Didaktiska dimensioner. Möjligheter och gränser för en integrerad didaktik/. Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige, Vol 2, No 4, Pp 241-262. Stockholm. ISSN 1401-6788.

If didactics (this is the word used in most European countries for theories of teaching as well as the art of teaching) is going to develop as a scientific subject, a general understanding with the capacity of integrating the different parts of the subject field into a unity is needed. But if an integrated didactics thus seems to be desirable, it is also necessary to examine its limits. The aim of this article is to discuss limits and possibilities of an integrated didactics. Although the article takes Swedish didactics as its principal frame of reference, the problems are not particular for Swedish didactics but are of international relevance.

In the first part of the article, different dimensions of didactics are discussed. Didactics is often divided into three different regions, called what-region, how-region and why-region. The what-region is concerned with the content of teaching, the how-region with ways of teaching and the why-region with explanations of curriculum choices selection, teaching, etc. In relation to this division, the distinctions between narrow and broad didactics have been introduced. By some scholars, the broad definition includes the what-region as well as the how-region whereas the narrow definition restricts didactics to the what-region. According to other scholars, ²broad didactics² refer to the what-region and ²narrow didactics² to the how-region. In both cases, the adjectives narrow and broad seem to be more rethorical than guided by an interest of giving an objective demarcation of didactics. To me, it seems to counteract an integration of the different regions of didactics.

Some scholars have identified an opposition between didactics as a science and didactics as a doctrine. But is it desirable that the normative problems of teaching are excluded from didactics as a discipline? No teaching is possible without choices concerning goals, contents and methods. Therefore, it doesn¹t seem plausible to leave the questions of norms and values outside the discipline of didactics. An integrated didactics should, according to my point of view, be able to include norms and values.

With the attempt of giving an overall and integrative determination of didactics as a discipline, it is suggested that at least three regions have to be included: normative didactics, descriptive didactics and metadidactics. In normative didactics, normative systems of teaching are established and critically examined, for instance by proposing goals, selections of knowledge and methods of teaching as well as justifying the choices. Descriptive didactics is concerned with empirical studies of actual or past teaching. This means that descriptive studies of norms and values in teaching can be subjected to empirical research, but it doesn¹t imply that they belong to normative didactics. Metadidactics, finally, is synonymous with philosophy of education, i.e. it includes inquiries of the theoretical foundations of normative as well as descriptive didactics, e.g. ontological, epistemological and axiological inquiries.

This determination of didactics as a discipline should, however, not mislead us to belive that didactics is exhausted. Didactics is also the name of a practical activity and there are other forms of didactical theory than scientific theories. If this is not sufficiently noticed, an unnecessary polarization is easily created and we are forced to choose between practical and theoretical didactics. Practical didactics can be divided in two categories, called teacher didactics and everyday didactics. The former is a learned skill, practiced by professional teachers. The latter is closer to a natural gift which the person may have cultivated, and it is used in everyday situations. Theoretical didactics is, on the contrary, a distanciated didactics which doesn¹t teach but makes statements about teaching and its conditions. But also practical didactics has its own kind of knowledge, a practical knowledge, which is a knowledge in teaching. Theoretical knowledge, on the other hand, is a knowledge about teaching. Theoretical didactics can not, however, be limited to scientific didactics. There are other forms of theoretical didactics where theoretical knowledge about teaching is established by the teachers¹ self-reflection or dialogue with colleagues.

Didactics is often divided into general didactics and special didactics. These branches of didactics are, however, not separate subdisciplines along with normative didactics, descriptive didactics and metadidactics but actually belong to didactics as a scientific discipline. The knowledge arrived at by general didactics always transcends particular subject matters, stages, etc. whereas the theories of special didactics are always restricted to certain subject matters or stages, and this is, of course, the point by having different divisions of special didactics. Because of this, general didactics can fulfil the function of integrating the many different special didactics.

In the second part of the article, the limits of integrating all didactical knowledge into a common stock of knowledge is discussed. Mainly against the background of Swedish didactical research, the restricting effects of the numerous paradigms are demonstrated. All didactical knowledge is, thus, relative and can only be integrated in relation to paradigms. But by making the presuppositions of the paradigm explicit (above all ontological presuppositions), it is transformed into a research program and can be criticized, the hallmark of science. At least to a philosopher of education.

Jan Bengtsson, Department of Methodology, Göteborg University, PO Box 300, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.




pp 313-314

Gösta Kåräng, 1997: Educational leadership. Investigations of correlations within the national evaluations of the compulsory school 1992 and 1995 carried out by the National Bord of Education/Pedagogiskt ledarskap. Korrelationsundersökningar inom Skolverkets nationella utvärderingar av grundskolan 1992 och 1995/. Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige, Vol 2, No 4, Pp 263-276. Stockholm. ISSN 1401-6788.

The reforms of Swedish education after the second world war have implied significant changes in the central as well as regional and local administration of schools. Earlier the school system was highly centralized but in the past decade more responsibility for educational decision-making has been devolved to the local school level. This process has changed the work of the the principal from administrative to instructional leadership. From mainly being an expert on interpreting and applying central regulations, the principal today, according to the national curriculum, is responsible for accomplishing the educational goals set up by society. This means leading the staff in interpreting and clarifying goals, developing appropriate educational procedures, monitoring the progress of the students and evaluating the outcomes of the school. It is also the duty of the principal to plan and monitor changes which are intended to improve school effectiveness.

There is still a lot of disagreement on the meaning of instructional leadership. Research shows that some teachers continue to look upon the principal as an administrative leader and donÕt expect him/her to be involved in instructional activities. In this study two ways of assessing instructional leadership are investigated. The aim is to elucidate the covariation between increased principal instructional management behavior and different aspects of educational outcomes and qualities of the schools.

The study was executed in 1992 and 1995, each year comprising the last grade of about 100 randomly selected schools with about 10.000 students. The principalÕs instructional committment was rated in two ways, by staff members from the National Agency for Education visiting the schools (in the 1992 study only) and by the teachers from the schools themselves. Data about different aspects of the teaching process and the school culture were collected by teacher and student questionaires. A parent questionaire was included in the 1992 data collection. For each school an average value was computed in each variable. Rank order correlations were calculated on the school level between the two ratings of the principalÕs instructional committment and the different school variables.

No statistically significant correlations were found between instructional leadership and the student attainment measured by standardized tests in Swedish, English and mathematics, but student and parents ratings of how effective the school was in giving knowledge, training cooperation and developing independence covariated positivly with the leadership variable. Substantial correlations were found between both measures of instructional leadership and the student rating of their influence on the work at school e.g. educational planning. Other variables based on data from the student questionaire covariating positively with leadership were the teachersÕ monitoring of student progress, the possibility of getting help at school in case of problems and the use of activity-based teaching methods.

Data from the parent and the teacher questionaires gave many statistically significant correlations between instructional leadership and different school variables among others the extent of cooperation between parents and school, the involvement of students and teachers in decision-making, the amount of collaboration between teachers and the degree of goal orientation in the work Ð broadly speaking different aspects of democracy at school.

On the whole, data from the teachersÕ ratings of school variables gave higher correlations with instructional leadership than corresponding student data. One explanation can be that the principal has to use an indirect way to influence the progress of the students. This implies discussions with the teachers on teaching strategies and ways of creating a good learning climate. It is the duty of the principal to bring about consensus within the staff on the aims, values and working process of the school. In this way the instructional leadership and the intentions of the principal are made distinct to the teachers. This explains the correlations found in this study.

Why were no correlations found between leadership and the studentsÕ attainments in Swedish, English an mathematics? A tentative explanation will be given. The study also comprised data on the socio-economic background of the students. When these data and the ratings of instructional leadership were examined small negative covariations were found. The lower the percentage of students from homes with long schooling, the more active was the instructional leadership at the school. In this way possible effects of leadership may have been cancelled out by socio-economic factors.

In the 1992 study the teachers rated different school factors in two ways. Firstly they judged how important they regarded each factor for the studentsÕ progress. Secondly they estimated to what extent each factor was emphasized at their own school. Based on these data a new variable was calculated, the difference between how the school ought to be in the opinion of the teachers and how it was in reality. This differential variable, which can be interpreted as representing the degree of frustration the teachers felt in their work, turned out to be negatively correlated with most of the school factors in the study. The larger discrepancy the teachers experienced between ideal and reality, the more negatively teachers as well as parents and students rated different aspects of their school, but the more active the principal was as an instructional leader in the school the less frustrations teachers appear to feel. It is easy to imagine how important leadership is, especially when the school is under pressure and the teachers experience stress. This is a situation many schools face today when State grants are being reduced.

The two methods of assessing the instructional leadership used in this study showed a substantial covariation (.45). They both gave a rather consistent picture of the main qualities of this kind of leadership: a democratic principal involving teachers and pupils in decision making and supporting cooperation between teachers and between parents and the school. None of which made any difference to school performance when class variables were controlled for.

Gösta Kåräng, Department of Educational Sciences, Karlstad University, SE-651 88 Karlstad, Sweden


pp 315-316

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