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Faculty of Education & Social Work

Masters of Education (Research) Proposal


Effects of primary pre-service and early career teachers personal experiences, understanding
and attitudes on confidence to deliver quality literacy programs
Candidate: Carla Spano
Supervisor: Professor Robyn Ewing
July, 2015
Introduction
The involvements and experiences within primary pre-service and early career teaching
progressions may generate challenging and turbulent times. As inexperience is confronted
with a stark demand for teachers to exhibit a plethora of skills, it can be tempting for new
teachers to feel overwhelmed and failed, before even being recognised as a graduate.
Occupying between eighteen and twenty-two credit points over a four year Bachelor of
Education (Primary) degree (University of Sydney, n.d.), the teaching of English can prove the
most demanding of a pre-service and early career teachers time and skill. And appropriately
so, given that fifty percent of teaching time must be allocated to English and Mathematics.
(New South Wales Department of Education and Training [NSWDET], 2016, p.4) Moreover is
the underlying rationale for this mandate, not overlooking that competence in literacy is
essential if an individual is to participate fully in society (Winch, Johnston, March,
Llungdahl, Holliday, 2009, p.xxxiii)This, therefore establishes English as a paramount and
essential aspect of both the teachers professional demands and their students schooling
experience.
Loreman, Sharma & Forlin (2013) note that how teachers perceive their teaching self-efficacy
has a lot to do with the attitudes they hold, and the knowledge and skills they believe they
have developed. (p.28) Herein lies the underlying motivations for the proposed research, as

the aforementioned realties of new literacy teachers are contrasted against a back drop of
their own personal experiences with English and literacy. There subsists an inevitable
correlation between how the task of planning and delivering high quality literacy programs is
either impeded or supported by personal attitudes, experiences and understanding of the
subject matter as beliefs, knowledge and practice are inextricably intertwined. (Mackenzie,
Hemings & Kay, 2011, p. 283) Adding to the pressure is the awareness that English is unique
in that, of all school subjects, it is the pivotal force of the curriculum and therefore is the one
subject that comes to the attention of powerful external groups. (Crocker, 2011, p.5)
Theoretical frameworks, such as Vygotskys, have formed the foundations of literacy
pedagogies. Such theories acknowledge the inevitable immersion of the teachers personal
constructs in their teaching practice (Mackenzie, Hemmings & Kay, 2011, pp.282-284)
Therefore, the proposed research will investigate the effects that personal experiences and
attitudes towards literacy have on final year Bachelor of Education (Primary) and first year
teachers confidence to deliver high quality literacy programs.
The proposed research will consist of three main phases. Firstly, it will ascertain the personal
attitudes and experiences of final year Bachelor of Education (Primary) students from the
University of Sydney enrolled in the EDUP 4076: Being critically literate unit of study in
semester one, 2016. Secondly, it will monitor changes in attitudes and assimilate participants
critical self-evaluation to determine confidence in teaching literacy within a practicum
experience. Finally, participant attitudes and confidence will be re-evaluated within the
anticipated experiences of graduate teaching.
The proposed study aims to attract a diverse range of participants who will be categorised
into three groups. This categorisation will be dependent on the varied degrees of personal
interest and attitudes towards literacy as it is at the present time. Therefore, the three groups
will be scaled according to participant self-evaluation as being highly interested, attaining
some interest, or disinterested in literacy. Importantly, the concept of literacy will be broken
into the skills of reading, comprehension, writing, grammar and spelling with the qualitative
aspect being directed solely at reading and writing.
It is proposed that within each of the three main phases, participants will be monitored from
their initial categorisations. Beginning in the second phase, participants will be required to
impart self-evaluative comments pertaining to their confidence in literacy teaching
experiences.

Research question
To what extent do primary pre-service and early career teachers personal experiences,
understanding and attitudes affect confidence to deliver quality literacy programs?
Aim and objectives of the research
The study aims to;
Investigate the relationship between personal attitudes, understanding and
experiences on confidence to program, implement and assess literacy units.
The objectives of the study are to;
Identify and analyse the relationship between their personal attitudes, understandings
and confidence towards literacy programming
Systematically monitor the attitudes and understanding of selected final year primary
pre-service teachers towards literacy as participants experiencing programming and
implementation within their final six week internship.
Analyse the attitudes and understanding of the same selected primary teachers
towards literacy as participants experiencing programming, implementation and
assessment within the first six months of anticipated graduate teaching.
Synthesise data explaining the extent to which pre and ongoing experiences of literacy
affect confidence to program, implement and assess this learning area.
Significance of the research
The proposed research may contribute to educational practice in a manner that highlights the
relationship between pre-service education and graduate experience. In identifying and
analysing the extent to which personal experience hinders or enhances teacher confidence,
the study has the potential to influence future reforms of pre-service literacy education
programs. Especially considering that early career teachers self-efficacy expectations may
decrease if the literacy instruction they observe in pre-service training, performs poorly
(Hastings, 2012, p.60) through neglecting the diverse personal constructs of students.
Furthermore, there is strong evidence that appropriate teacher training can significantly
improve teachers attitude towards teaching literacy (Karr, 2011, p.2)
The research may correspondingly serve as a means for teachers to assert and address
personal realities surrounding the delivery of quality literacy programs. Consequently,

participants may develop literacy based professional learning goals and critically reflective
practices to enhance literacy teaching as when you are conscious of the beliefs that guide or
underpin what you want to achieve in your classroom, you are in a far better position to
evaluate your teaching activities (Harris, Turnbill, Fitzimons & McKenzie, 2006, p.235)
Furthermore, the research will assist in understanding how the absence of confidence may
contribute to a demise in teacher resilience, anxieties around literacy programming and
overall job satisfaction.
Definitions of key terms
Delivery

The term delivery within this study refers to the programming, teaching and assessing of
literacy skills.
Literacy
The term literacy within this study refers to the skills of viewing and reading with the
inclusion of comprehension, and writing, and with the inclusion of grammar and spelling.
Pre-service
The term pre-service within this study refers to undergraduate students in their final year of
the Bachelor of Education (Primary) degree.
Early career teacher
The term early career teacher within this study refers to graduate students in their first year
of teaching.
Programming
The term programming within this study refers to consciously and critically sequencing
learning experiences and resources within a literacy unit.
Quality
The term quality within this study refers to the programming, teaching and assessing of
literacy units in accordance with applicable documents such as the NSW English Syllabus K10, and contemporary pedagogy and resources that facilitate high levels of student
engagement.
Relevant background literature
At the foundation of the purpose for the study is the concept of teacher confidence and selfefficacy. As testament to the existing research in this aspect of education, Bostock & Boon
(2012), referencing Bandura (1997) note that the construct of perceived self-efficacy is;
"belief in one's capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to produce

given attainments" (Bandura, 1997, p.3) (p.22) In comparison to the proposed study, the
research carried out by Bostock & Boon (2012) provides a parallel enquiry of pre-service
teachers and their literacy confidence. Monitoring perceived self- efficacy in relation to
university preparedness over a four year undergraduate degree, participants noted the
correlation between personal experience and self-competence, requesting a refresher course
in literacy domains such as grammar. (Bostock & Boon, 2012, p.34) The findings of this
research not only indicate a possible outcome of the proposed study, but also highlight a
potential drawback of researching undergraduate and new career teachers, noting that;
the research indicates pre-service teachers' levels of self-efficacy are inflated in
comparison to their actual competence, measures may need to be implemented within the
degree to facilitate self-awareness and self-assessment among the cohort and, additionally, to
address any short comings in identified areas of literacy competence early on during the
course of the degree. (Bostock & Boon, 2012, p.34)
Reading
Consecutive studies carried out by Cremin, Mottram, Collins, Powell & Stafford (2008 and
2009) investigated the concept of teachers as readers. Before you can begin to consider how
to approach reading in the classroom, you must have a notion of what reading is. (Green &
Campbell, 2013, p.114.) In examining teacher knowledge of suitable childrens authors as well
as personal interests in reading, the first study hypothesised that practitioners may not be
sufficiently familiar with a diverse enough range of writers to enable them to foster reader
development, make book recommendations to individuals and promote independent reading
for pleasure. (2009, p.12) as 62% of teachers could name between zero and one childrens
picture book author. (2009, pp.11-12) Consequently, the second study was structured as an
intervention to eradicate misunderstandings of literacy and build knowledge of childrens
literature. (2009, p.12) At its completion, Cremin et al (2009) concluded that teachers
experienced greater confidence and a broadened positive attitude towards childrens own
literature choices. (p.13)
Though the study involved participants with varied teaching experience, Cremin et al (2009)
note that the aforementioned pedagogical shifts were particularly prevalent in newly
qualified professionals. (p.14) The first study by Cremin et al (2008) and the provocation of
their successive intervention (2009) provide assurance of the authentic concern for graduate
literacy teaching that is instigating the proposed study.

Similarly, research carried out by Hastings (2012) affirm that managing, organising and
delivering reading instruction during a Literacy Block in a primary school setting can be
fraught with difficulties, especially for Early Career Teachers (p.55) who were the focus for
the research. The study hypothesised that Early Career Teachers who attain a strong sense of
self efficacy with regard to reading instruction are more effective and enthusiastic in
teaching reading. (p.56) It concluded that instruction of comprehension strategies,
assessment of reading and establishing reading activities drew the lowest levels of selfefficacy. (pp.63-64)
Writing
It is advocated that teachers should strive to achieve a harmonious environment where
writing and reading become a natural and integral part of classroom activity. (Winch et al,
2009, p.99) Therefore, in achieving this, the self efficacy of literacy teachers must also
include due consideration for their understanding of, and enjoyment for writing.
As an impetus for an intervention based study by Gardner (2014) was the unattested fact that
primary school teachers are expected to demonstrate proficiency as writers. (p.128). The
research, aimed at first year Bachelor of Education (Primary) students, investigated the
personal relationship teachers have with writing including measures of their self-perceptions
and self-confidence. Gardner (2014) affirmed that the interrelatedness of personal
experience and content of writing is an important realisation for teachers to make. (p.140).
Consequently the intervention ensured participants kept a writers sketchbook for three
months, followed by attending writing workshops, and completing pre and post reflective
surveys on their self-perceptions of their writing. (pp.132-133) The study concluded that
having enhanced their understandings of the writing process, students participating in the
research were better able to empathise with their students and writers and the personal
nature of meaningful writing.
Gardener (2014) has assisted in establishing a relevance for the proposed study in that his
work has identified the unavoidable, yet not entirely recognised realities that pre-service
teachers own experiences of writing may impact in their confidence to teach it. Comparable to
the proposed study, this research challenges the assumption that all teachers have confidence
in themselves as writers (Gardner, 2014, p.128). It was productive in unearthing and
eradicating potential barriers to future writing teaching further on in the course. In this, it

affirms the role of pre-service education institutions in managing the gaps in cultural capital
that students present as stated in the aforementioned significance of the proposed study.

Research methodology
Fundamental to investigating the research question are the opinions offered by pre-service
and early career teachers. As a means of capitalising on this natural and anticipated status
progression, the research will monitor University of Sydney students from their enrolment in
the fourth year Bachelor of Education (Primary) unit, EDUP4076: Being critically literate, to
their first semester of projected graduate teaching. The longitudinal nature of the research
gives high appeal to a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods which will be
inextricably utilised to support an informed discussion of the research question. Each selected
methodology ascertains a deliberate position within the three phases of the research.
Phase One
Method
The initial phase of the research is pivotal to the success of conducting a meaningful
longitudinal study. It is within this phase that the opinions of willing students enrolled in the
EDUP4076: Being critically literate unit will be drawn on as they asked to participate in a
questionnaire. This methodology was chosen on its merit as a means of being able to capture
multiple views initially and identify themes in participant responses that will inform future
phases of the study (Walliman & Buckler, 2008, p.184) The questionnaire will aim to elicit the
demographic information, personal attitudes, understanding and overall enjoyment of literacy
aspects through extended comments, category selection, scaling and ranking. Additionally,
participants will be asked to self- assess their confidence in programing for literacy learning
experiences, deriving both qualitative and quantitative data. A pilot of the questionnaire will
be administered to Masters of Education (Primary) students. The questionnaire will be
amended according to the quality of participant responses and the degree of ambiguity that
may surround some questions.
Sampling
The questionnaire will be offered to all students enrolled in the EDUP4076: Being critically
literate unit. They will also be briefed on the ongoing nature of the study, noting that they
must indicate if they anticipate commencing the sequential unit, EDUP4079 Professional

Experiences 4 (Primary), and remaining in Australia to undertake graduate teaching work in


2017. If students choose to participate, responses will be analysed to co-ordinate a simple
stratified sample group. Participants will be categorised into groups depending on their
varied degrees of personal interest and attitudes towards literacy as it is at the present time.
It is desired that ten participants will represent each category, meaning thirty participants in
total. It is trusted that the stated number of participants will allow for a thorough study, as
well as alleviating the impacts of the possible limitations as mentioned in the forthcoming
section as they will be required to remain within the study for a further 9-12 months.
Phase Two
Method & Sampling
Having analysed responses to the questionnaire and established participants into the three
groups, the secondary phase will involve a second questionnaire and in some cases, an
interview as the participants now commence the practicum component of the EDUP4079
Professional Experiences 4 (Primary) unit.
The questionnaire will be presented to all participants in a similar manner to the first in that
it will contain a mixture of extended comments, rankings and scales. The concept targeted
within each question (enjoyment, confidence, and understanding) will also bear similarities
with the first. However, the purpose of the secondary survey is to exhibit the relationship
between personal experience, attitude and understanding and self-efficacy to program and
teach literacy. Consequently, participants will be asked a greater number of questions, both
open and closed, to convey their confidence in teaching during their practicum.
Using the data from the questionnaire, two participants representing each faction (totalling
six), will be interviewed as a means of further eliciting self-reflective attitudes and concerns
about programming and teaching literacy in comparison to their own personal outlooks
towards it. The semi-structure nature of the interview means supplementary questions and
irrelevant questions may be added or removed according to the interviewees response.
(Walliman & Buckler, 2008, p.173) This will provide the important flexibility needed when
asking self-reflective questions. Participant responses will be analysed in contrast to the first
and second questionnaire, with reference to their respective groups. Interview questions will
be piloted on three additional early career teacher participants who will be acquired on a
collegial basis (NSW primary school based) as they hold the relevance of responding from a
practical standpoint as the questions require.

Phase Three
Method & Sampling
The third phase of data collection marks the final component of the longitudinal study.
Participants at this phase are likely to be recently commencing teaching related work as a
graduate of the University of Sydney. The methodology of this phase will greatly mirror that of
the second. In order to analyse the continuation of their development, participants will be
given a final survey, occupying a similar structure to the second. From the responses, three
participants from each faction (totalling nine) will be interviewed, including at least one who
had already been interviewed from each faction in the second phase. The interview will take a
similar format to the previous in its semi-structured, open ended approach. However,
questions will be modified to reflect the demands of graduate teaching, including assessment
requirements and varied work load capacities. The interviews will be contrasted with date
collected in both previous phases to inform a discussion around the research question.

Research summary

Phase One
All consenting EDUP4076: Being critically literate
students complete questionnaire (possible sample size
approx.: 100)

30 participants selected and divided equally into 3


groups. All 30 participants kept for the duration of the
study

Phase Two
30 participants complete questionnaire

6 participants (2 from each faction) are interviewed

Phase Three
30 participants complete questionnaire

9 participants (3 from each faction, including 3 that have


been interviewed previously) are interviewed

Ethical considerations
Approval as a means of informed consent will occur before data collection begins (Bell, 2008).
This will need to be gained from the University of Sydney Ethics Committee. Participants will
be required to consent to the study and will be given due time to consider the implications of
their longitudinal involvement. Whereby the pilot interviews are concerned, the study is
required to follow the Department of Education and Communities research approval process
(SERAP).
Timetable for the research
Preparation

Phase One

Phase Two

Phase Three

July 2015

March 2016

July 2016

March 2017

Develop

Establish

Collect

Collect

quantitative and

communication

quantitative and

quantitative and

qualitative data

and commitment

qualitative data

qualitative data

collection for

to study

from participants

from participants

undertaking

undertaking

practicums

graduate teaching

phases one and


two
Pilot phase one
data collection
Submit ethical
considerations
Identify possible

Collect
quantitative data
from EDUP4076)
Analyse
participant
responses
Group

Analyse

Analyse

participant

participant

responses

responses

Formulate initial

Formulate

discussion of

discussion of

participants

participants into

responses

responses

(those preparing

three categories

between phase

between phase

to enrol in

(based on similar

one and two

two and three

EDUP4076 in

attitudes and

2016)

understandings)

Begin reviewing
literature

Pilot phase two


data collection

Re-examine

Analyse

literature to

responses across

include recent

all three phases

research
Pilot phase three
data collection

Synthesise
research through
discussion
Publish research
with all relevant
components

Anticipated problems and limitations


Longitudinal concerns
Full time tertiary study trajectories are vulnerable to a wealth of interruptions and unforseen
events due to the complex management of adult responsibilities and full time study demands.
It is a noteworthy reality that the participants selected may encounter setbacks in completing
the unit of study, their practicum requirements and therefore, the attainment of their degree.
Given the longitudinal nature of the study, these setbacks may occur at any phase.
Consequently, importance will be placed on selecting a sufficient number of participants for
each sample group, with the intention being to counteract the possible loss of participants.
Graduate employment
Upon graduating, participants are free to indulge in an immense range of employment, postgraduate study or alternative experiences. This may have significant impacts on suitable
participants for the third phase of research. While the selected participants in the third phase
arent discriminated for their graduate teaching capacity (full time, part time, casual), it is
crucial that they are gaining experience in the demands of programming, implementing and if
possible, assessing literacy. As previously stated, importance will be placed on selecting a
sufficient number of participants for each sample group.
Disengagement from the study
Participating in a long term study at a momentous time in an undergraduate university
experience has the opportunity for participants to become disengaged with the study. If a
personal interest reasons was to eventuate at odds with being involved in the study,
participants are able to flex their right to withdraw. The aforementioned mechanism will be
utilised to combat this potential issue.
In the event of these limitations or others unforseen occurring throughout the study, all
relevant detail will be stated in the final thesis.
Time constraints
The interview component of phases two and three of the study present the greatest logistical
challenge, including conducting pilot interviews. This may be particularly poignant in the final
phase where teachers are adapting to the demands of graduate teaching. Electronic means
will be utilised to conduct interviews whereby physical arrangements have been hindered by
time and logistical constraints.

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